Press Release

Mohammed Bin Rashid Medical Research Institute, an initiative of Al Jalila Foundation, awards AED2.5 million to advance COVID-19 research in the UAE

Al Jalila Foundation, a global philanthropic organisation dedicated to transforming lives through medical education and research, announced today that it has awarded AED2.5 million in seed grants to five UAE-based medical researchers. The COVID-19 research grants in the areas of genetics, therapies and diagnosis are the first to be awarded under the auspices of the recently inaugurated Mohammed Bin Rashid Medical Research Institute to help enhance the UAE’s capacity to address the pandemic and other viral diseases in the future.

The research awards were presented by His Highness Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of Dubai’s Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management, during a ceremony at Al Jalila Foundation.

The award recipients are highly talented scientists from some of the most prestigious medical institutions in the UAE including United Arab Emirates University, University of Sharjah, Al Ain University and Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital.

During the event, Al Jalila Foundation engraved the name of His Highness Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum on a first-of-its-kind donor recognition wall called Bassmat Rashid Bin Saeed. The donor recognition wall pays tribute to the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum’s philanthropic legacy and honours generous donors who invest in medical research.

His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of Al Jalila Foundation, said the Foundation’s efforts to advance medical research support the UAE leadership’s vision for the future of healthcare and the high priority they place on scientific and medical fields.

“The Foundation’s initiatives reflect its strong commitment to enhancing the capabilities of the country’s healthcare system by supporting research organisations and talented scientists as well

as forging cooperation with international research entities and public and private sector institutions in the UAE. The Al Jalila Foundation is keen to work with medical institutions to enhance the UAE’s readiness to face health challenges, the most critical of which is the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when the world is racing against time to find solutions for eradicating the virus, well-funded research efforts are critical to mitigate current and future health and economic challenges,” he added.

His Highness Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum praised the efforts of Al Jalila Foundation and the researchers who received grants for their commitment to advancing research to combat COVID-19.

His Highness said: “Dubai is committed to supporting research in healthcare and medical fields as part of the vision of Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to transform the UAE’s growth and development through new knowledge and innovation. Exploring new possibilities and breakthrough discoveries in healthcare and medical sectors is key to the UAE’s and Dubai’s efforts to create future-ready economic and social systems that are geared to meet the evolving needs of a post-COVID world. Al Jalila Foundation’s efforts to promote COVID-19 research is consistent with Dubai’s strong strategic focus on these sectors and its commitment to creating long term value by advancing the frontiers of learning and science.”

Her Excellency Dr. Raja Al Gurg, Member of the Board of Trustees of Al Jalila Foundation and Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Al Jalila Foundation, commented: “We are proud to support the nation’s efforts to combat COVID-19. These research awards are testament to our commitment to adapting to the changing needs of the medical landscape to ensure the health and safety of our people. “Our investment in medical research reaffirms our commitment to embed research and innovation in the fabric of the nation’s long-term healthcare strategy.”

“By supporting talented scientists and investing in research, we are developing the next generation of innovators in health sciences and paving the way for medical breakthroughs to save lives.” Dr Raja added.

The applications were assessed through a competitive two-stage review process that included independent international peer reviews by experts from the world’s most renowned medical institutions across the globe from USA, Belgium, Norway, Brazil, Japan, Singapore, Italy, India, UK, and Australia. The process was overseen by the Al Jalila Foundation Scientific Advisory Committee which is made up of some of the most brilliant minds in the region. They worked with an international peer review panel to award research grants to the most deserving scientists. The reviewers were handpicked as leading experts in their specific field of research, in line with the commitment from Al Jalila Foundation to grow a biomedical research ecosystem in Dubai built on international best practice.

Out of 91 applications, five were selected to receive grants of up to AED500,000 each.

Dr Abdulkareem Sultan Al Olama, CEO of Al Jalila Foundation, added: “The COVID-19 global outbreak has amplified the need to invest in pioneering medical research. Now, more than ever, we are counting on scientists and doctors coming together to develop better diagnostic testing, treatments, and gain a better understanding of the coronavirus and other viral diseases. We are delighted with the incredible response we have received from the scientific community and confident about the contributions this round of research grants can make to support the fight to combat COVID-19.”

Each research project has strong collaborations with scientists and researchers in the UAE and abroad, with the engagement of over 40 co-investigators from renowned research institutions across the globe. Collectively, the principal investigators have co-authored over 300 peer-reviewed publications in prestigious international journals. The research projects comprise of multidisciplinary teams of clinicians, scientists, and medical students from major academic and health entities in the UAE and abroad, including geneticists, epidemiologists, pediatricians, infectious disease specialists, microbiologists, pulmonologists, and such. They have outstanding expertise and resources to contribute to Al Jalila Foundation’s mission to support the UAE Government in its fight against COVID-19.

Since inception in 2013, Al Jalila Foundation, a member of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Global Initiatives, has provided opportunities to increase innovative and impactful medical research investing AED28 million to award 101 research grants and eight international research fellowships at leading global institutions in the UK, USA and Japan to discover solutions for the region’s biggest health challenges.

Summary of research projects that received grants:

Diagnosis

Dr. Farah Mustafa, from United Arab Emirates University, aims to characterize microRNAs induced during different stages of COVID-19 as biomarkers for better diagnosis, disease prognosis, and development of novel RNA-based therapies against COVID-19.

Genetics

Professor Rabih Halwani, from University of Sharjah, is determining inborn errors of immunity associated with life-threatening COVID-19 infections in previously healthy young individuals.

Dr. Ahmad Abou Tayoun, from Al Jalila Children’s Specialty Hospital, is studying the genetics of COVID-19 in children and young adults in the UAE.

Therapies

Professor Taleb H. Al-Tel, from University of Sharjah, aims to develop novel and nature-inspired therapeutics for the treatment of COVID-19 by inhibiting the proteins and enzymes of the virus that are responsible for host-cells entry and for the replication of the virus inside the human cells.

Dr. Mohammad Ghattas, from Al Ain University, is discovering new drug candidates as potential treatments for COVID-19 via targeting the main protease enzyme (Mpro) of the virus.

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