Medical innovation boosts Abu Dhabi

The region’s healthcare market is headed towards one dominated by the private public partnership model amid the cuts in subsidies across the Arabian Gulf region.

In Abu Dhabi, the sector has seen some mega investments from the Government with the aim to decrease dependence on travel abroad for treatment.

Over the past few years, Mubadala, an investment arm of the Abu Dhabi Government, has invested in facilities such as Imperial College London Diabetes Centre, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Telemedicine Center, primary care and multi-speciality hospital Healthpoint, National Reference Laboratory, Capital Health Screening Center and Tawam Molecular Imagine Center.

Last year, the healthcare sector generated Dh1.11 billion of Mubadala’s total revenues of Dh34.1bn, which was up from Dh32.7bn in 2014. The healthcare division revenues also went up from Dh867.9 million in 2014, according to Mubadala’s financial results released in March.

At the two facilities of Imperial College London Diabetes Centre – in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain – more than 800,000 patients have received care in the past decade, according to Mubadala.

Run in partnership with the UK’s Imperial College London, it provides a range of services from diagnosis to management of diabetes-related complications.

Dr Hawaa Al Mansouri, the consultant endocrinologist and diabetologist at Imperial College London Diabetes Centre (ICLDC) in Abu Dhabi, is involved in the way the centre fosters innovation.

She joined the centre in 2014. Here, she talks to The National about the ICLDC and developments in medical innovation.

What is innovation to you?

Innovation is creating something new, something that’s also needed. It can also be coming up with an idea or product to develop something that is needed.

Why is it important in the healthcare sector in the UAE? How is Mudabala fostering innovation in healthcare?

In every field the way to advance is to innovate. The UAE is a young country that has always pride itself with new ideas. Mubadala has different assets and we have this environment of sharing information among different centres, sharing cases and experiences. For instance, if we have a complicated surgical case that we might see here, we refer them to Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

So, basically putting together these large number of positions, specialities, and experiences and fostering an environment of knowledge transfer. This not only encourages good healthcare but an environment to innovate, and discuss and question.

Here at ICLDC, we collaborate with other physicians among the centres here and in London. In endocrinology if there is a complicated case where the treatment is not clear, outside the realm of what we are used to, we have weekly meetings, case presentations to the Imperial College of London and to the other fellow physicians here and we discuss it. Such as if we want to use a medication that is not approved for the indication but we think it is necessary for the care of the patient, we discuss it as a team. If we agree it is the best for the patient, we go ahead and do it.

We have collegial discussions and lectures from fellow physicians from other Mubadala assets, or from foreign and local [entities] almost every day of the week, for an hour. You never know who is going to walk in as what, so it’s important to draw in all our assets.

You improved on an ultrasound-compatible catheter, the SonoStik, as part of a team at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, DC. What will it do? When will it be available in the market?

I improved on an existing tool, which is a peripheral access catheter. It is a mechanism of how to insert a line, which is a tube, and is a way to administer medications or to draw blood among other things. I made two changes and those were patented.

One was the material, which can be visualised under an ultrasound so you can see where you are going in and decreases the number of pokes and complications of repeated insertions. Another was to put in a wheel mechanism, the insertion of the previous SonoStik used both hands. This helps to free up the other hand to use the ultrasound. I helped to develop it when I was a trainee at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, DC, between 2012 and 2013. There was a business competition at the university that we entered as a team, me and two other physicians. There were two other engineers but they were not yet in the team. To collect the cash prize, we had to set up a company in the US. That is how SonoStik LLC began, a start-up with the cash prize of US$25,000 [as part of winning the business competition]. With the money, we hired the two engineers, paid for the lawyer fees, and the patent fees. Then I came back here and Sheikh Mansour [bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Presidential Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister] adopted our idea, and was kind enough to fund us for the next steps. We produced 200 medical grade catheters in the US for testing [purposes] to get an FDA [federal drugs agency] approval, we can’t sell anything unless we got the approval. The FDA approved the company’s application for premarket notification in October last year. The next step would be to establish a management company here, and then a production company, and launch it here.

Mubadala fosters an environment that encourages us to be creative. When I came here, I was encouraged to present the idea here.

How did you start? What interested you to study medicine?

When I was five years old, I saw a picture of the human body in the encyclopaedia and I fell in love with biology. Being a physician I found was like being a detective. I graduated from high school in 1999 and got a scholarship from the Government’s Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan Scholarship. I was among the first batch of students to be sent abroad on the scholarship, to study at University of Maryland. I got two bachelor degrees there and studied neurobiology and psychology. And then went to George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, where I studied medicine and also did my residency.

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