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[ABU DHABI] A biotechnology incubator aimed at supporting Arab researchers has been established following the signing earlier this month (13 February) of a two-year agreement between Abu Dhabi University and the medical research and product development company AccuVis Bio.

The incubator, a first for the region, will support biotechnology research and commercialisation in the Arab world, taking discoveries through to marketable products.

It is being financed by the Khalifa Fund, with additional support from the Arab Science and Technology Foundation (ASTF), and will have its offices and laboratories at the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre at the Abu Dhabi University campus.

"Through this initiative we aim to raise awareness of the importance of technology incubators to higher education, to the United Arab Emirates and to the region," said Nabil Ibrahim, Abu Dhabi University's chancellor.

"Incubators nurture creative ideas, provide employment opportunities and assist in commercialising discoveries and innovations — all of which contribute to building a knowledge-based economy."

Ibrahim said the incubator will supply AccuVis Bio with a range of services, including business, technical and logistics support.

"Both parties will also work on developing joint publications, collaborative research, and student training," he said.

"The role of the incubator is to help researchers develop product prototypes that can ultimately be commercialised for sale by regional and international companies," said Abdullah Al-Najjar, chairman of AccuVis Bio, and president of the ASTF.

"It has the potential to transform biotechnology innovations — whether they have been patented or not — into marketable products," he told SciDev.Net.

Abdul Mohsin Onsi, director of the incubator, and head of research affairs at UAE University, said the incubator model could help overcome a long-standing lack of private sector involvement in biotechnology.

He said there would be a focus on supporting work in biomedical engineering, public health and veterinary medicine.

"We have already started working with four researchers in these fields to help implement their projects," he said.

ASTF will advertise the incubator to research centres around the Arab world, and invite applications from researchers.

Applicants will need to demonstrate that their product is "an Arab innovation in the biotechnology field capable of attracting investment", with decisions to be made by a science committee attached to the incubator.

Al-Najjar says an initial fund of about US$2.7 million is available, and if the model proves successful, ASTF is keen to establish other incubators, particularly in the field of energy research.