Proposal to Open FDA Offices in Israel and UAE Heads to Congress

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Photo by Kobi Richter/TPS on 3 August, 2017
By Etgar Lefkowitz • 17 May, 2023

Jerusalem, 17 May, 2023 (TPS) — A proposal to open U.S. Food and Drug Administration branches in Israel and the United Arab Emirates is headed to Congress on Thursday for preliminary approval.

The goal is to strengthen regional ties, reduce America’s dependence on Chinese pharmaceutical supplies and boost Israeli medical exports.

The project, which is awaiting Israeli approval as well, comes at a time of good relations between Israel and Arab countries in the context of the 2020 Abraham Accords as well as pharmaceutical shortages in the U.S.

The proposal, dubbed “America’s Medical Friendshoring Solution,” is the brainchild of the Alabama-based U.S. Israel Education Association (USIEA), a faith-based nonprofit.

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Senior members of Congress from both parties and top Israeli and Emirati government officials were briefed on the plan, which has been on the drawing board for a year. It is still under review in Jerusalem, officials said, where the Ministry of Health has been circumspect about green-lighting the move.

The bill with the general proposal is expected to be brought up at a U.S. House Committee on Appropriations subcommittee meeting on Thursday morning for markup, officials said, and will then go to the full Appropriations Committee next week. The Appropriations Committee allocates funding for bills.

Markup is the process by which a congressional committee debates, amends and rewrites proposed legislation.

The bill is then expected to go before the full House for a vote before the August recess, and then be sent to the Senate for final approval.

“America’s Medical Friendshoring Solution not only provides a creative alternative for the United States’ supply chain shortages, but it also deepens our ties with Israel and other allies in the region,” Heather Johnston, founder and CEO of USIEA, told the Tazpit Press Service.

Johnston added that the U.S. should seize every opportunity to build on the Abraham Accords, saying, “This is a way for us to diversify our critical pharmaceutical supply chains out of China and to create a network for lasting peace in the Middle East.”

Break the Chinese Monopoly

The bill comes in a post-COVID environment in which there is a global effort to diversify pharmaceutical supply chains at a time of political tensions between the U.S. and China on the one hand and a growing relationship between Israel and the UAE on the other.

“From a U.S. point of view, you don’t want to have all your eggs in one basket,” said Peter Pitts, a former FDA associate commissioner and a senior fellow with USIEA in a telephone interview with TPS. “You want to diversify the medical supply chain.”

He said that such a move would demonstrate to investors, who pour hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital into China for research development, that the U.S. is serious about doing business with signatories to the Abraham Accords, which would also be a boon for Israeli exports to the U.S.

“This is a rare occurrence where everybody wins,” Pitts said.

Both Israel and the UAE have robust pharmaceutical industries, with Israel’s cutting-edge technological advances in medicine and science being known around the world.

But with the U.S. legislative calendar progressing and the UAE already on board with the concept, Pitts cautioned that Israel could lose out on a win-win opportunity, with an FDA field office opening only in the Gulf nation.

“I hope that Israel doesn’t miss this opportunity due to bureaucratic inertia,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem declined comment on Tuesday.

The Ministry of Health said in a terse statement late Tuesday that the issue is “under discussion.”

Regional Benefits

The head of Israel’s umbrella organization for hi-tech life science and advanced technology has expressed enthusiastic support for the proposal and its benefit for ties with the U.S.

“We recognize the importance such an office will play in advancing the interests of both our countries as well as furthering the path towards regional economic cooperation and peace in the Middle East,” said Karin Mayer Rubinstein, CEO and president of the Israel Advanced Technology Industries (IATI) association. “Not only can this deepen the ties between our respective healthcare ecosystems, but this can also serve as a great advancement of regional collaboration.”

The FDA operates regional offices in China, India, Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico and Belgium, but none in the Middle East. A Jordan office opened in Amman in 2011 but was subsequently closed in 2013 without explanation.

According to the proposal now under Congressional consideration, the FDA field office envisioned in Israel would be unique in that it would not deal with selling drugs domestically—avoiding another bureaucratic hurdle—but only with exports to the U.S., Pitts said.

A 2019 bipartisan proposal to open an FDA field office in Israel in order to help it advance its role in global pharmaceutical development in the pre-COVID era never got off the ground.

Proponents of the current bill are hopeful that with a changed regional and global environment the new proposal will come to fruition as early as next year.

Israel exported $753 million in pharmaceutical products to the U.S. in 2022, according to UN figures.

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