Entrepreneurs / #ForbesEntrepreneurs

October 18, 2018,   9:58 AM

Palestinian Biotech Scientist Generates $500,000 Using Camel Milk

Nayera Yasser

Cairo-based fashion, culture and lifestyle journalist that believes in the underrated potential of regional craftsmanship and inspiring individuals who aim to create a better tomorrow. FULL BIO

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Dressed in her regular lab coat and surrounded by papers that document her shrewd pursuit to cure humanity – it was one regular day in 2007 when a Bedouin man walked into her office and paved her first step towards a life-changing journey. Standing proudly in the middle of her office, the loving father announced to the world rather than just to her that his cancer-patient daughter was cured because she only drank camel milk. As a woman, who has always seen opportunity in the midst of hardship – she did not only listen intently; instead, she followed his tip to the dawn of a new era in biotechnology.

Penelope Shihab, who is often introduced as one of the most influential Arabs and the mastermind behind one of the world's most prominent biotech companies - grew up in Palestine, where she learned to be persistent and resilient; a woman that would never allow the war to control her. "For Palestinians living in Palestine, the everyday lesson is that you have to try your best today because you might be dead tomorrow. If you have a brilliant scientific idea or an innovative business idea in mind, go for it with all you have got - you have nothing to lose," explained Shihab about her unquestionable drive to research the scientific benefits of camel milk.

After only a number of experiments, Shihab took the full leap - quitting her job in order to establish Monojo a biotechnology company specialized in therapeutics derived from antibody production. Furthermore, the entrepreneur later launched Skinue also from Amman. The ground-breaking skincare line utilizes camel milk in treating acneic skin. After years of research and development, Shihab currently advocates the underrated effect of camel milk antibodies, which she describes as unique and quite tiny; yet, pivotal to a number of diverse purposes. The scientist's work highly depends on her deep understanding of the animal’s physiology and anatomy – the scientist works on the animal's immune system in order to obtain certain antibodies produced by the camel.

While expected obstacles such as gender, religion, and nationality were never a valid topic of discussion for her, the scientist still had to overcome her own set of challenges on the route to become an international phenomenon. "After the research that my team and I worked on for years saw success and we invented what we decided to call the “Camel Technology”, we were faced with the rigid investment environment of Jordan - my proposal and efforts for fundraising were all turned down by so many investors." Shihab added, "This happened in 2009, I was depressed; I decided to leave the country and take the technology to the United Kingdom, where I was pursuing my PhD studies under the supervision of Prof. Christopher R. Lowe at the University of Cambridge."

Prof. Lowe did not only understand her dilemma; but, he also offered to connect Shihab to a Jordanian businessman, who owns a billion-dollar multinational pharmaceutical business; Dr. Samih Darwazah, the founder and chairman of Hikma Pharmaceuticals. "I met Dr. Darwazah, when I returned back to Jordan and I was able to convince him to invest in my company, this changed everything for the business and myself," said Shihab with her regular air of confidence and stamina.

With one main investor on board, 18 team members between Jordan, Brazil, and the UK as well as the main ingredient flying in from a Camelicious farm in Dubai, United Arab Emirates – Skinue manufactures the products in a facility in France and distribute them to the USA (Amazon.com), Brazil, Australia, GCC, and Europe. According to the founder, the USA is her most prominent market. "It is a huge and diverse market; meanwhile, customers there understand new technologies and advances in healthcare - they generally like to try new and exotic innovations," stated the scientist who believes that she can build a strong customer base and expand from the new world. On the other hand, Shihab still refuses to completely turn her back on Jordan; despite its expensive cost of selling. "In Jordan, the cost of selling Skinue at the moment exceeds our production costs; this is particularly because of taxes, customs, labor and social-security expenses. Moreover, the Jordanian market is very small in size. However, we are considering putting Jordan on our map in the future," elaborated the scientist, who has already generated a $500,000 revenue in 2017 with her winning formula of Skinue and Monojo.

These prominent numbers, becoming Hollywood's favorite skincare products and getting invited to Oscar-related events are the accumulation of 13 unwavering hard working years, when Shihab refused to surrender to circumstances. After finally reaching the point of profitability, the scientist and entrepreneur currently has her eyes set on expanding the company's selling markets to include Latin America. "We have started the process of registering the products there; furthermore, we will follow on with marketing campaigns and branding. As for the markets we are already active in, we plan to increase our marketing efforts to further grow our sales and revenues," concluded Shihab.

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