Emile Ameen

Saudi Arabia and Its Biotechnology Strategy

A few days ago, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the Kingdom’s National Biotechnology Strategy, which can be considered a new initiative of Vision 2030. The strategy aims to turn Saudi Arabia into a biotechnology pioneer in the Middle East and North Africa by the end of this decade.
The first question that the reader might ask is: "What is biotechnology, as a novel concept in our contemporary world?"
It is worth noting that the term was introduced by the Hungarian agricultural economist Karoly Ereky in 1919, and he meant by it "all lines of work leading to products, starting from raw materials, with the help of living organisms.”
However, the roots of the world of biotechnology in nutrition can be traced back to the renowned French scientist Louis Pasteur, who discovered, in 1871, that heating liquids up to a certain temperature is capable of killing harmful bacteria.

Pasteur applied this process to milk and managed to improve food safety by heating it to a certain temperature.
Later on, Biotechnology became a way to process living organisms, i.e., processing living organisms at the cellular and subcellular level, in order to maximize industrial and agricultural output (and by extension, economic output) by improving their genetic characteristics and traits.

Does this strategy have a central objective? Of course, it does. It aims to enhance the Kingdom's standing as a leading player in biotechnology, broadening its horizons and signaling the start of a transformative journey for the Kingdom and the world.

Like other branches of Vision 2030, the biotechnology strategy announced by the Crown Prince seeks to turn Saudi Arabia into a leading scientific capable of making major breakthroughs that change the way we think about humanity and our environment, in addition to allowing us to reach a high degree of self-sufficiency and leaving a positive social and economic impact. The plan is to build on 4 strategic pillars, starting with humanity... What about them?
The first pillar of this strategy we can think about is tied to the genome, meaning the set of genetic information found in DNA.
Biotechnology establishes a base of knowledge for understanding genomes, particularly at the local level, i.e., Saudi genomes in particular. It invigorates preventative health measures and enhances innovation, by expanding the national genome database and our capacity to analyze this data.
Is this pillar particularly significant in our contemporary world?

Our world will undoubtedly be managed through digital human genetic data. It is no secret that future global wars will not be fought with traditional or nuclear weapons, but rather with control over humanity through biology, meaning that anyone who has the genome codes of a particular nation can have a profound impact on it. Hence, major countries are rapidly developing genetic knowledge banks for their own people and others equally.
As part of the genome revolution encapsulated by this strategy, gene therapy will be adapted to serve humanity and contribute to combating genetic diseases using biotechnology. This involves transferring and modifying defective genes, and potentially, implanting organs using the genetic content of a patient's cells, instead of transferring an organ from a donor or a deceased individual.
Biotechnology ensures, through genome research, the production of drugs tailored to an individual's genetic makeup, through a process known as pharmacogenomics. Additionally, it will help us deal with issues tied to lineage and find solutions in forensic medicine.
The second pillar of the new Saudi strategy for biotechnology is tied to improving agricultural output, which is seen as a path for achieving one of the crucial strategic objectives for nations seeking to make decisions independently, by ensuring that they can sustainably ensure their nutritional needs.
Biotechnology enables the transfer of genes for desired traits to plants. For example, they can be made to tolerate higher temperatures and the size and shape of fruits and plants can be modified. Additionally, it could enhance the nutritional value of crops through the addition of certain genetic traits taken from other crops. Another significant prospective enhancement is tied to our capability to produce environmentally friendly biofuel, aligning this strategy with the Kingdom's vision for fighting climate change.
Here, it could be said that biotechnology will have a positive impact by reducing agricultural imports. It could also create a surplus in the balance of payments, as well as promote environmentally friendly policies that purify the air of our ailing planet.
The third pillar is an extremely important issue that was highlighted by the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, namely vaccines and their availability and production.
In a nutshell, biotechnology enhances the potential for integrated vaccine manufacturing. That would allow for high degrees of self-sufficiency, in addition to creating other opportunities to export to the Middle East and North Africa. It also enables scientific research and development efforts using innovative technologies.
The fourth and final pillar is tied to the concept of localization. The technology makes healthcare spending more efficient by establishing an integrated platform for biomanufacturing.
The new strategy contributes to 3 percent of the Kingdom’s GDP excluding oil exports, which amounts to 130 billion dollars, and will create thousands of new jobs and opportunities.
The Kingdom's biotechnology strategy underscores the fact that addressing critical issues always stems from an awareness of one’s capacities, not elusive external influences.