Glimpses of Day Two at QFARF

Day two at the Qatar Annual Research Forum featured numerous oral presentations in the fields of health and biomedical research; energy and environmental research; computing and information technology research, and arts, behavioral and social sciences and humanities research. Speakers were then questioned by judges who encouraged a closer look at what was presented and then gave each a score based on the presentations and the responses. The scores being the basis for awards at the gala dinner later in the evening.

Posters—featuring research spanning the range of sectors—continued to draw attention from participants.

Dropping in on the morning’s energy and environment session, I was able to get an in-depth idea about the state of desalination research in Qatar and some of the hurdles and debates around ways forward. Of great interest was a presentation on wastewater treatment and using the product to restock the aquifers in Qatar. Dr. Mohamed Hamoda, a researcher with years of experience in wastewater treatment and water management in Kuwait, is collaborating with a team here in Qatar and described two massive aquifers in the country that could be refreshed with properly treated wastewater. Through techniques already tested in Kuwait, he said that treated water can be raised to a quality level at or above what would be considered potable. This water, he explained can be plugged back into the ground, which would have an impact since over 95 percent of the water used in Qatar is from desalination.

An afternoon workshop—From Mind to Market—An Overview of R&D Commercialization Processes in the Arab Region—featured expert discussion on commercial viability of projects, available financing options (region specific given international contextual examples), legal and IP challenges in the Arab region, strategies for capitalizing on IP through joint ventures and creating value, and technology development and commercialization in Qatar.

Professor Salim Chahine, of the American University of Beirut, spoke strongly of the country’s need to look carefully at the lack of access to financing as a prominent obstacle to the R&D process. He emphasized supporting small and medium enterprises and startups. He spoke also of private equity and venture capital, how in the US, for example, private funds represent 3.5 percent of GDP while in the Middle East, the setup around these funds is still very young and limits the amount of exit points (selling avenues) once projects reach a certain stage. He also called for initiatives to support entrepreneurs—he cited examples of companies that incubate ideas by bringing entrepreneurs into their platforms, offering them materials and connections to investors.

Mr. Mu’tasem Al-Dmour of Talal Abu-Ghazaleh International and Arab Society for Intellectual Property in Jordan spoke about legal and IP challenges. He said the big challenge facing Arab countries involves a lack of coordination. He specified that little attention has been paid to IP regulations and enforcements and that this is an integral part of any IP regime. The lack of public awareness, he said, contributes to insufficient enforcement of regulations … many people, he said cannot differentiate between IP and trademarks. He said that industries are major players in this.

Mr. Hamad Al-Kowari, of Qatar Science and Technology Park, spoke about “Technology Development and Commercialization in Qatar,” emphasizing and expanding briefly upon QSTP as an example of the nation’s dedication to R&D. He spoke of how all projects are aligned with the Qatar National Research Strategy and how QSTP has managed to draw many of the major players in industry to its free zone platform.

Dr. Ossama Hassanein, of Newbury Ventures and TechWadi, spoke of how to capitalize on IP with specific strategies. One strategy involved gaining a deep understanding of markets. Taking six months to deeply investigate a market before project onset was recommended—he specifically spoke of expected growth rates and margins. Best approach to creating IP, he said, is to create a startup. He emphasized as another key strategy that the increase in value proposition is critical to maximum gains.

These were just a few of hundreds of ideas exchanged at the exciting and enriching forum today. Every year it seems the vision for research in Qatar comes into greater focus.


~Emily Alp

QFARF 2012–Opening Keynotes

This morning’s keynotes touched on the wide-sweeping goals of Qatar in terms of its research and development objectives. They at once featured detailed examples of implementation and how the country will realistically look at its progress in the context of other approaches around the world. Challenges were noted as was the idea that this is an extremely interesting and important time to be involved in research in Qatar.

Her Highness, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Chairperson, Qatar Foundation, opened the forum with the announcement of the allocation of 2.8 percent of the nation’s GDP toward research and development. This affirmation of strong national commitment to sustainable growth and knowledge transfer set the stage for Qatar Foundation’s President of Research and Development, Mr. Faisal Al-Suwaidi, to discuss in more detail how the nation’s academic, government and R&D institutions will align their priorities—and be continuously re-assessed to encourage coordination—with the Qatar National Research Strategy (QNRS).

“How will we select research investments should be linked to strategic goals,” he said. He added that Qatar must be mindful of the interplay between its own capacity building and its international partners, how they contribute to this.

He further discussed how the QNRS helps to prioritize investments and drive a focus on performance management in light of continuously investigated global trends that shape the economy. The strategy serves to foster the assessment of national capabilities in terms of the vision, mission and desired outcomes, he said.

Above all, he described the QNRS as a “living document” that will be reviewed by stakeholders and refreshed as needed.

Professor Lord Ara Darzi, Head of Surgery and Chairman of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London, presented a strong example of how Qatar’s cancer research strategy aligns with the national vision and the QNRS.

The aim of the research strategy is to make Qatar a leader in cancer research over the long term. It’s based, he said, on the principles and values of the national strategy, which involves a strong emphasis on building human capital.

He emphasized investment in the creation of faculty who will drive this important agenda, while focusing on the development of a system around cancer research here in Qatar, a system that is accountable for the delivery of what has been targeted.

The creation of such capital, he said, starts with the recruitment of top faculty from around the world, and, beyond this, he emphasized, retention of this talent. Fellowships—both clinical and non—would be an effective way to encourage those in residencies around Qatar to move toward PhDs. He proposed that these be incentivized.

To ensure advancement in research, Lord Darzi suggested that distinguished clinicians be freed for blocks of time each week to focus solely on research. He further suggested continuous appraisal of all involved researchers.

The research, he said, is vital, and yet it must be translated into action at all levels—from diagnostics to end-of-life care. Moreover, he emphasized collaboration among all involved.

“We need all stakeholders to talk to one another—these resources are terribly expensive, and we should be working together,” he said.

Qatar’s response to the strong need for solutions, at every stage, to this deadly family of diseases, is an “example of what the national research strategy can do; a very small but clear example involving cancer,” he said.

Executive Vice President of Research and Development, Dr. Thomas Zacharia, discussed “Inventing the Future: Innovation as the Key to Sustainable Development.”

“What we are doing will have an impact regionally and globally,” he said when explaining the title of his talk.

He described compelling and unique qualities that greatly bolster Qatar on its mission to become a prominent research center not only in the region but worldwide. Among these, he noted the leadership and the 2.8 percent of GDP they have dedicated to research and development efforts. He also touched on the world-class educational and research institutes that have already successfully produced results and operate in a translational nature. Finally, he encouraged everyone “expand your imagination and think of Doha as a living lab for innovating the future.”

“It is clear to me,” he said, “that many of the advantages we receive will be social and technical in nature … social science is really where the rubber meets the road.”

In terms of technical advancement, he described how Qatar is perfectly positioned to promote the widespread and efficient use of natural gas while minimizing its use of the fuel at home. Specifically, he spoke of the tremendous resource available in solar power and how tapping this and promoting more efficient use of energy overall in Qatar would be keys to great gains over the long run.

He spoke of investigations into road safety in Qatar—how advancements on this front will help increase understanding among people about hazards inherent to the modern day, such as hands-free device and mobile device distractions.

Along these lines, he also touched on technology being explored by researchers at Qatar Science and Technology Park, involving automated vehicles that would not only be safer and more convenient but also more efficient in terms of use per vehicle per day.

Dr. Dirar Khoury, Director of Institutional Research and Acting Executive Director  of the Research Division of the Qatar Foundation, wrapped up the keynotes with an introduction of the forum’s agenda and a reminder about its purpose: to celebrate and reward research. As part of this introduction to the program, he noted “amazing growth” in the forum, evident in an increase in the number of abstracts and accepted abstracts.

-Emily Alp

QScience and QFARF 2012

Get the latest on the exciting scientific advances happening across Doha! We’ll be blogging live from the 2012 Qatar Foundation Annual Research Forum, giving you insights into scientific discovery from all sectors emerging out of a city that is quickly becoming an international hub of research.

From the opening address by Her Highness, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, to insights from panel discussions and announcements of program launches by QF’s President of Research and Development, Mr. Faisal M. Al-Suwaidi, and Professor and Head of Surgery at the Imperial College London, Professor Lord Ara Darzi, we’ve got you covered.

Follow us here and on twitter to get the latest from the forum, live.