Merck & Co believes the Gulf region is an area ripe for expansion, especially the United Arab Emirates, driven by its diabetes blockbuster Januvia.

The company notes that the UAE ranks second-highest worldwide for diabetes prevalence and around 20% of the population is currently living with the disease. Some 40% of residents over 60 have diabetes and it constitutes 75% of deaths among UAE nationals.

Against this background, Merck's Januvia (sitagliptin) is well placed. Indeed the US major presented data at the World Diabetes Conference in Dubai last week looking at the health problems Muslim diabetics suffer when fasting during Ramadan.

Discussing the findings, Harvey Katzeff, global director for scientific affairs (diabetes) at MSD Research Labs, said that despite healthcare providers' advice to the contrary, 79% of Muslims with type 2 diabetes continue to fast. As a result of this, he notes that Merck carried out a study to find the best ways to help patients maintain their sugar levels while fasting and results showed that those taking Januvia,  a once-daily DPP-4 inhibitor.were less likely to suffer from hypoglycaemic attacks, than those taking a sulphonylurea.

Andrew Miles, MSD’s managing director in the Gulf region, told the Khaleej Times newspaper that the UAE pharmaceutical market is currently worth $1.5 billion annually, and is growing at 14% year-on-year. He was quoted as saying that Merck is spearheading a wider programme of initiatives to tackle every facet of diabetes, from launching a cookbook with the government of Abu Dhabi to training about 80 nurses across the Gulf region, "so they can serve and counsel diabetes patients better”.

Mr Miles went on to say that the UAE government has "ambitious goals to ensure the disease is tackled, as the cost to society is high, both in financial and social terms".