Saudi Pharma Growth Strategy

Three trends shaping the future of Saudi Arabia’s pharmaceutical industry.

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 strategic framework is driving significant innovation and growth in the pharmaceutical industry.

The purpose of the framework is to empower the Kingdom by creating an independent pharmaceutical sector, which will enhance local medicine manufacturing, ensure national security, and secure the country’s health needs. 

Saudi Arabia is the largest pharmaceutical market in the Middle East and Africa (MENA) and is valued between USD $8.5 billion to USD $10.7 billion . The generic pharmaceutical market alone is valued at USD$3.2 billion and is expected to reach USD $5.3 billion by 2031 . In fact, according to Invest Saudi, by 2030, the entire industry is predicted to grow by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of as much as 9.6% . 

A key goal of the Vision 2030 framework is to double domestic manufacturing from 20% to 40%. To achieve this The Kingdom has successfully attracted several international pharmaceutical companies to build their drug research and manufacturing in Saudi Arabia, including Sanofi, Pfizer, GSK, Novartis. The companies will conduct clinical research and manufacture therapies across a diverse mix of categories, such as vaccines, respiratory treatments, antibiotics, and biopharmaceuticals.  

As the industry continues its tremendous growth, the key trends shaping the future of pharmaceuticals in the Kingdom are investment in public-private partnerships, localizing innovation, and developing cutting-edge therapies. It is clear Saudi Arabia is poised to be the leading hub in the MENA region within the next decade. 

Unlocking growth with public-private partnerships 

The Kingdom’s focus on public-private partnerships is a critical element to reaching the domestic manufacturing goals for the industry.

To support this, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) launched a new commercial-scale contract and development manufacturing organization called Lifera.

The purpose is to help grow the local pharmaceutical industry and support The Kingdom’s position as a global leader in pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Lifera focuses on manufacturing, building partnerships and attracting investment all of which support growing domestic manufacturing and enhancing access to pharmaceutical products. The pharmaceutical manufacturing will include insulins, vaccines, plasma therapeutics, monoclonal antibodies, cell and gene therapies and innovative small molecules. 

Since its launch in June 2023, Lifera has successfully built a number of partnerships. One partnership is with global healthcare leader Sanofi and Arabio—a leading and local company manufacturing pharmaceuticals — is set to increase the local production of seven vaccines. These vaccines are part of the mandatory immunization schedule for The Kingdom to increase their accessibility to the local community and, in the future, be available for export to the regional market.

More recently, Lifera has acquired a majority stake in Saudi Biotechnology Manufacturing Co (SaudiBio) . The deal enhances manufacturing capacity for insulin and leverages the company’s existing partnership with Novo Nordisk to continue growing localized biomanufacturing within the Kingdom.

Earlier this year, GlaxoSmithKline entered into a five-year production partnership worth USD $27 million with Saudi Chemical Company Holding’s unit AJA Pharmaceutical Industries to make pharmaceutical products in the Kingdom. While Novartis has signed an agreement with the government to “expand local investment activities in areas of cell & gene therapy, transfer of technologies, clinical research development, next-generation therapies” , which will account for an $857 million contribution to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product by 2024.

Another strategic joint venture is with Resilience, a technology-focused biomanufacturing company, to provide expertise for the design, construction and commission of a cGMP state-of-the-art drug product manufacturing facility. The facility will support the aseptic filling of inactivated/bacterial vaccines, mRNA vaccines and therapeutics such as monoclonal antibodies, plasma derived products and large molecules. 

Accelerating innovation through localization 

The pandemic was a key trigger for governments across The Kingdom to prioritize embedding supply chain resilience and drug supply security.

While the initial focus was proactive preventive healthcare, the long-term result has been to create a strong, thriving, local industry for pharmaceuticals, biotech, and life sciences.

Sandeep Sinha, head of healthcare and life sciences at JLL MEA, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative, says there is a strategic focus on fostering high-tech industries — like pharmaceuticals — through private sector investment and localized manufacturing. 

The national investment in biotech infrastructure, research and development, and talent acquisition is driving outsized impact. The Kingdom has already seen USD $3.9 billion in investment in research and development since 2021. 

One exciting initiative is Dammam Valley, a Saudi Arabia-based biotechnology and healthcare investment company with a biotech startups program in partnership with Saudi Aramco, Future Investment Initiative Institute, and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Investment and Ministry of Industry. The goal is to encourage the creation and growth of more biotechnology startups in The Kingdom, foster ties with other global startups, and encourage local ideas and contributions to the biotechnology industry .

Innovative initiatives like The Saudi Network for Clinical Trials aim to support clinician-researchers to bring new treatments to market by increasing clinical trials around the country. This will allow researchers to develop medicine for the specific genome of the Saudi population and commercialize potential new technologies.

To enable the long-term success of the local pharmaceutical industry, there needs to be more public and private funding into commercializing treatments, greater nurturing of the human capital to ensure there is local talent to support companies, and ongoing evolutions of the regulatory and incentives framework that supports innovation.

Building the future of gene therapy in the Kingdom 

As approaches in pharmacogenomics gene therapy, cell therapy and mRNA-based therapy increase, Saudi Arabia is investing to be a global leader. 

The Kingdom is already a rising star in gene therapy. As part of the Vision 2030 strategic initiatives, it launched the Saudi Human Genome Program to use advanced genomic technologies for better diagnosis, therapy and prevention of diseases. The Program has a goal to sequence the genomes of 100,000 citizens in the Kingdom to better understand the genetic basis of disease in Saudi Arabia . These efforts to understand The Kingdom’s biological makeup will drive advances in medical care for decades by using genomic information to determine genetic risk and causality for all health-related conditions. To date, 61,177 samples have been tested, which has led to the identification of 3,000 novel mutations causing 1,230 rare genetic disorders and the development of 25 gene panels.  

Centers in the Kingdom, like the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, now provide premarital and newborn screening that can be completed in under 35 hours, cancer screening and targeted therapy, and better management of other multifactorial genetic diseases such as diabetes and loss of vision/hearing. These tests include some of the most advanced genetic services including genotyping, expression analysis, bioinformatics, molecular karyotyping, and next-generation sequencing services. 

To strengthen Saudi Arabia’s position as a gene therapy leader, The Ministry of Investment is building key relationships to expand infrastructure. Recently, it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Novartis to expand local activities for cell and gene therapy, including sharing technology, research and development, and building local capacities. This will ensure better clinical translation and local manufacturing of such therapies. 

With Vision 2030, the government has created a solid foundation for the pharmaceutical industry in The Kingdom to be a global leader.

Through investing in public-private partnerships, localizing manufacturing and creating cutting-edge therapeutics to the country, Saudi Arabia is creating an independent, local, innovative pharmaceutical sector that will support the country’s health needs now — and well into its bright future.