Algeria to strike deals with top US universities

Published online 7 June 2012

Hichem Boumedjout

The University of Algiers
The University of Algiers
Nature Middle East

The Algerian government plans to become an international hub for biotechnology by 2020, similar to Boston, Ireland and Singapore, to supply its national pharmaceutical needs and promote scientific research.

As a first step to realizing their ambition, the University of Algiers will sign partnership agreements with Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Boston's Northeastern University during the Bio International Convention 2012, taking place from 18–21 June in Boston, Massachusetts.

The deals will see young Algerian researchers and doctors travel to both Harvard and Northeastern to take part in several workshops. At a press conference, Djamel Ould-Abbés, the Algerian minister of health, claims that three components needed for anywhere to become an international are financial support, political will and having people with the right experience. The government is focusing on investing in science for its five-year development plan. "We hope we can build up this 'human capital' with help from these world-renowned universities."

According to the Algerian Customs and the Ministry of Health, Population and Hospital Reform, the pharmaceutical market in Algeria was worth US$2.9 billion in 2011, nearly two thirds of it imported and the rest locally manufactured, mostly through the private sector. Supply in unreliable, however, as imports can often be delayed. "We want to achieve self-sufficiency in drug production and decrease the cost of importing medications from overseas," added Ould-Abbés.

"Medical innovation is a nascent field in Africa, which also suffer from high burdens of disease. Work in this area can be upgraded by partnerships with world-class institutions such as the Harvard Medical School," says Calestous Juma, an international-development researcher at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "This will be of benefit not only for Algeria but for other countries in the region. It will also position Algeria to become an important source of medical technology for other African countries."

Kacem Mourad, a biotechnologist at University of Oran in western Algeria is skeptical that Algergia will become a centre for biotech. He says that efforts may be too little too late. "We have repeatedly called for such large-scale cooperation projects in the past but were ignored. I am happy at least the government is willing to invest in science now to produce a stronger economy."

Mourad says the government should focus efforts on promoting agricultural research rather than medical research. "Before securing self-sufficiency in drug production we need to make sure the people are getting a proper healthy diet to protect them against diseases."