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[CAIRO] In a bid to embrace biotechnology as a tool for economic and social development, the United Arab Emirates has announced plans to create a US$400 million research and development park in Dubai, to be called DuBiotech.

According to pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, DuBiotech, which was launched on 1 February, will include two main initiatives: an 'industrial cluster' and a Foundation for Research and Innovation.

By allowing 100 per cent foreign ownership and repatriation of profits — as well as zero tax — the industrial cluster will aim to attract companies active in biotechnology and pharmaceutical research and development.

It will also house other companies offering support services such as venture capital, legal services, and training tailored to the biotechnology sector.

The Foundation for Research and Innovation will channel government funding into research and development in fields such as medical genetics and stem cell research, crop biotechnology and pharmaceutical research.

It will also act as a business incubator, providing funds and support to help commercialise promising innovations.

DuBiotech will also have a strong social focus, says its executive director, Abdulqader Al-Khayat. It will collaborate on research with universities, medical research institutions and non-governmental organisations in the United Arab Emirates and the wider Gulf region, and promote the use biotechnology to bring social, economic and environmental benefits.

Construction at the three square kilometre DuBiotech site will begin in the second half of 2005, and companies should be able to move into operational premises by the second quarter of 2006.

The DuBiotech project is the latest in a series of initiatives aimed at accelerating the development of knowledge-based economies throughout the Gulf region. Work is underway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on a 'biocity', and Qatar's science and technology park is due to be completed at the end of this year.

Together, these initiatives will help produce a new generation of biotechnologists and entrepreneurs who will promote the commercial development of biotechnology in the Middle East, says Faisal Taha, director of technical programmes at Dubai's International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA).

"It is time that the region gets its share of the biotechnology market," Taha says.

Mohammad Al-Attar, ICBA's director-general, told SciDev.Net that DuBiotech was a milestone and that the United Arab Emirates model for creating a diversified knowledge-based economy was something other countries in the region could learn from.