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Why Intellectual Property Matters Part 2: Dr Mohammad Ismail Al Olama’s Patents Weed Out the Competition

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  • 17, Aug 2023
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Intellectual property (IP) is, or should be, paramount for start-ups and SMEs looking to ensure their competitiveness. In this series, four IP holders in the UAE explain the benefits it can yield. After Falcon Robotics’s Ahmad AlDarwish, we sat with Dr Mohammad Ismail Al Olama, Senior Microbiologist at the Zayed Centre for Herbal Research, part of the Research and Innovation Centre of the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi. 

In 2022, the global wound care market size was valued at $21.4 billion and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.15% from 2023 to 2030, partly owing to the rising prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, which the UAE has one of the world’s highest rates of. No wonder the government is intent on finding solutions to this health crisis, employing researchers such as Dr Mohammad Ismail Al Olama to pioneer medical discoveries that could help. 

A Senior Microbiologist at the Zayed Centre for Herbal Research, part of the Research and Innovation Centre of the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi, Dr Al Olama has been working on antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal drug discovery and development for almost 20 years. Notably, he has discovered two therapeutic bacteriophages viruses that are now registered under his name in the U.S.’s National Centre for Biotechnology Information’s GenBank, a comprehensive database that contains publicly available nucleotide sequences for more than 300 000 organisms. 

He and his team are also behind two products that could revolutionise wound care. 

Phytodermagen is an anti-gangrene powder whose antibacterial and anti-fungal effects were tested in vivo, in vitro, and on patients refusing amputation, the only conventional option offered to them. Applied topically, this herbal mix, on which the team had been working since 2008, prevents surgery and cures chronic non-healing wounds such as severe burns, chronic diabetic gangrene, and more. 

Bloodstatin is a hemostatic agent safe for home use. Coming in individual sachets, the herbal powder rapidly stops blood loss when applied on a cut or a wound. Its anti-gram-positive bacteria and anti-fungal effects also make it an ideal treatment for athlete’s foot. 

Getting ahead of the competition 

With the help of Takamul on the financing and processing fronts, Dr Al Olama and his team filed the patents in 2014-2015, applying for the unique combination of herbs in Phytodermagen and for the specific use of a natural paste as a blood-loss stopper in Bloodstatin. While the latter is still being processed in the UAE, both are fully approved by the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT, which assists applicants in seeking patent protection internationally). 

Holding these patents was very important to Dr Al Olama, who had learned a hard lesson first in 2008. The scientist had been looking into patenting one of his discoveries for four years when a researcher in London published a paper on the exact same herb, beating him to the punch. Then again in 2011, he had invested around AED150,000 to develop a new anti-viral and anti-cancer treatment only to discover that it had just been patented by other universities in the U.S. and Japan, one as anti-viral and the other as anti-cancer. “Having a patent in medicine is very challenging; there are researchers with much better facilities everywhere. So, for me, it was an important recognition,” he explains, proudly adding that “Many companies are looking into anti-gangrene treatments […] But our products have no competitors anywhere in the world. We were the first ones globally to bring up these claims. If anyone else had just mentioned this before, in a scientific paper for example, we couldn’t have filed […] It’s gratifying, and it gives you a goal.” 

Al Olama and his team are now looking into raising capital for clinical trials which, once successfully completed, will allow them to start either commercially producing their discovery as a proper medicine or selling the patent to a pharmaceutical company. 

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