In previous generations the bald, the overweight, the impotent or even simply the cosmetically challenged, generally put up and shut up. Now there are a plethora of answers to many of life's age-old problems in the form of 'lifestyle drugs'.
While most of the lifestyle drugs we see on pharmacy shelves in the UAE are produced by big multinational pharmaceutical companies, local producers are working hard to claim the share of their market.
These treatments for non-life-threatening ailments are available in pharmacies across the UAE and the region and although sales figures are hard to come by, many within the industry believe there is strong potential for future growth, particularly for local producers.
"The current trends indicate that there is potentially high demand for lifestyle drugs in the region," market researchers RNCOS told. Dr Ali Saeed Hussain, director of the pharmaceuticals services department at the department of health, agreed. "The movement and purchase [of lifestyle drugs] is higher than before," said Dr Hussain.
An obvious choice for many pharmaceutical companies is weight-loss pills, and growing levels of obesity within the region are bolstering demand. RNCOS's Saudi Arabian healthcare market forecast to 2012 found that 68 per cent of males over the age of 15 are likely to be obese or overweight by 2015, and 63 per cent of women.
"The UAE is also facing high symptoms of obesity," added the analysts. "Increasing levels of obesity and growing health awareness among the region's population is particularly pushing up the demand for dietary supplements in the Middle East, especially in the Gulf nations. Major growth will be seen in sports, energy and weight-loss categories."
In the UAE the two biggest players in the weight-loss pills market are Xenical, produced by Swiss giants Roche, and Reductil, made by US-based Abbott Laboratories. Although Reductil holds a larger share of the market, both products are battling it out on pharmacy shelves for supremacy in an area where weight problems are severe.
"There is good trust with Xenical because it is a Roche product," claims Ali Habash, general line manager for Roche in the UAE.
Local pharmaceutical companies are also diving into the fray, in an attempt to gain some market share. "We have a product that will be launched very soon," said Mohammad Abdul Wahab, product manager at Dubai-based Company Global Pharma. "This is to reduce fat and carbohydrate absorption. This market is growing very fast." The new treatment, called Lyner, is to be made available within a week.
Xeincal's advocates however claim there is no locally-produced drug that will threaten their market share yet. "There are no generics for Xenical," said Habash. "It's a brand.
He also pointed out that many of the smaller, locally or regionally produced products are herbal based, and are therefore looked upon less favourably by pharmacists due to the lack of research that has been done on them."
"There is no clinical experience, there is no safety," he said. "Every year there is an herbal product withdrawn for safety [reasons]."
Local producers are, however, moving into the cosmetics side of the lifestyle drugs market. Sharjah-based Medpharma, who began production of pharmaceuticals in 1998, make Hairgaine for men and women and market La Blanche products. These include skin-lightening and anti-wrinkle creams as well as a cream that claims to lift and firm breasts. The company is still compiling its 2008 report, but provided some general figures that show how it is growing and gaining strength in the lifestyle drugs market.
2008 revenue from the UAE was in the range of Dh10 million to Dh12 million. "That was growth of almost 300 per cent from 2007," said Joel D'Lima, product manager at Medpharma, citing an expansion of the sales department in 2007 as the main reason. "La Blanche has been a major contributor to the sales, totalling roughly Dh1 million to Dh1.5 million. In these recession times more and more people are inclined towards generic drugs [rather than brand-name products] because it reduces the cost," said D'Lima.
An example of this is Hairgaine, which contains minoxidil to treat hair loss. The product was launched a year ago as a locally produced alternative to other well-known international brands such as Regaine, and after one year now lays claim to 20 to 25 per cent of the UAE's minoxidil-based product sales, said D'Lima.
Such successes for local producers are yet to become a reality in treatments for erectile dysfunction (ED) as the national market is dominated by the battle between Viagra and Cialis. World-renowned Viagra is produced by New York-based Pfizer, while Cialis is a relative newcomer made by Eli Lilly, another American company.
"This year we are celebrating the fifth anniversary of Cialis in the Gulf," said Ahmad Abdul Monem, brand manager for Cialis in the GCC. "We have beaten Viagra for most of the market in the Gulf: Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE." Pfizer could not be reached for comment.
Those involved with Cialis say local producers have been unsuccessful in the ED market. "With domestic drugs we have had three or four drugs over the past five years. However they have not been successful," said Monem.
But local producers involved in the dietary supplements market say growth is huge and they are confident of being able to tap into demand.
Prasanth Manghat is chief financial officer for Abu Dhabi-based Neopharma, which began production of pharmaceuticals in 2003, and he believes the focus on paediatrics will reap rewards for their dietary supplement range due to the rapidly increasing population.
Abu Dhabi's 2030 plan sees the emirate's population tripling, he pointed out, "so there is a very big market that is coming up for the supplements". This can range from supplements for pregnant and lactating mothers to those for babies and children.
"The market is definitely improving and increasing," said Manghat. Various groups in society are likely to buy supplements, he explained, such as the growing paediatric population, as well as the elderly, and young people too busy to prepare square meals. Added to this is an increase in disposable income, he said.
With health insurance for expatriates becoming more widely included in employment contracts, people have more cash to spend on topping up their levels of vitamins, he said.
Although the market for supplements has yet to become as big as it is in other countries, he feels this will soon change.