Dr. Simon Agwale is a virologist/vaccinologist and founder and chief executive officer of Innovative Biotech Ltd, Keffi, Nasarawa State, and Innovative Biotech, USA Inc. He was the West Africa’s representative on HIV/AIDs for Developing Countries Coordinating Committee (DCCC) at European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Programme. In this interview with BABA YUSUF he discusses how his research medicines are relieving patients with hepatitis, diabetes and HIV. He calls for government support for medical research.
What is Innovative Biotech Ltd all about?
We are a research and development company. We treat patients that suffer from chronic infections, both communicable and non-communicable. We also run students’ research programmes. Nigerian universities do not have sound research infrastructure. Presently undergraduates, postgraduates and health researchers come to our institute to conduct researches. We help them also to publish their findings in international journals. We do what we call ‘the second opinion programme’ by confirming diagnoses already done by other laboratories. We handle some of the cases; others we refer them to our partners overseas for the best health care. We also do large-scale vaccination. Our breakthrough in hepatitis is unequalled yet.
In the case of HIV, we have revolutionary products that have been able to bring down the viral load of HIV to undetectable level within three months. These are all natural and well-researched products without side effects. Our products are backed by scientific proofs, either from us or some top level institutions around the world. For diabetes, we have been able, using mineral supplements, to bring down the sugar level to normalcy within two weeks. We have other landmark health products to address Nigeria’s peculiar health needs. In addition, we have published our research findings in some of the top rated scientific journals.
In the case of HIV/AIDs, are your products different from the conventional anti-retroviral drugs?
HIV is the only disease where somebody’s condition must worsen before the treatment starts. The issues associated with anti-retroviral are delicate. One is the toxicity, and secondly, the drug resistance. You have to limit the time the patient needs the drugs. If it is started early, it means all the combinations will be exhausted and when the person needs it most, he or she must have developed resistance to the drugs. That is why you have to wait for the CD4 to drop before the treatment begins. We put some patients on trial and we were able to bring their viral loads to an undetectable level within three months. The trial has been done in Nigeria with support from the Nasarawa State government. This creates a real hope for HIV patients that don’t need anti-retroviral therapy. Those already on the therapy can use this product with it and get better quicker.
HIV strains differ according to geography; how effective will this be in Nigeria?
They are natural products. With the advent of nanotechnology, we have been able to break silver into nano forms. Any organism that comes in contact with it dies in vitro within six minutes. The clinical trials were done in Ghana and Kenya recently and the articles are there for public consumption. Silver is not like antibiotics that is lock and key. If the organism changes its genetic makeup, the antibiotics become ineffective, and then resistance is developed. But Silver has a broad range: it resonates. It has the same wave length with what we call the ultra-violet light.
You are a vaccinologist and virologist by training; how come you delve into natural medical products?
Working in Nigeria, all kinds of conditions are seen. We have limited expertise to address these matters. That forced some of us to go into more researches to take what is being used and use them differently to see the results. That is where the clinical component trials come in. The silver and other natural products that we have for diabetes and cholesterol, etc, are well researched. In collaboration with our partners, we take these ingredients and formulate them based on daily requirements and come up with products that will change people’s lives.
How soon will they be produced locally?
We applied to some government agencies for some facilities so that we can start producing them locally. Right now, we manufacture them in the US in collaboration with our partners and then bring them here.
What are your challenges?
The challenge is that even development banks. NEXIM and the Bank of Industry (BOI) still have conditions that are similar to the traditional banks. They are supposed to be development banks where ideas should be considered for funding, but they will say there must be collateral.
How compliant are these products with Nigeria’s regulatory bodies?
I’m a consultant on vaccines to the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC). We are working out some workshops with NAFDAC. So I’m a stakeholder.
How soon can the world bid goodbye to HIV/AIDs?
Our laboratory in the US is working on a potential cure for HIV/AIDs, using stem cells. We have a certain percentage of Caucasians that are resistant to HIV. Even if you take their blood outside and infect it with the virus, it will still be uninfected. A lot of research went on and it was found that such people have what we call deletion in one of their cells, which we call ‘the CCR5 co-receptor’ that HIV binds to. Because of that, HIV does not see the cell to enter CD4. The only true cure we have is what we call ‘the Berlin patient’. In Berlin, a doctor identified one of the Caucasians that has the resistant genes, and did bone-marrow transfer. It is about the fourth year of this treatment and the person is completely negative. What we do in the US now is to see how we can make this treatment universal because the way it is now, it is not practicable. To do a bone-marrow transfer, you have to do some compatibility tests. But with the stem, we have identified three people that have this resistant gene and we are trying to transform stem cells with these resistant genes to see whether we get the same result. I hope, with that, there will be a universal cure. But until then, we continue to do research and development with what we have on ground to see how best we can manage patients. Patients on these products are doing greatly well. They are full of life and no complications. The issue is not cure, but getting the viral load undetectable and the CD4 going up. That’s what life is all about.
How do you compare local herbs and those produced in the US?
The difference between herbal products formulated in the US and here is the fact that those ingredients were well researched and properly formulated. You take and you know what you are taking. But here, somebody says he has herbs for this. These herbs are not well researched. Some of them are toxic. We don’t know the side effects. The efficacy of those herbal products must be established. Until this is done, they are not safe. I’m not saying they don’t work, but the practitioners have to work with scientists.
Are you getting support from governments in Nigeria?
In the US, research is funded by the government. Even big companies in the US get grants from the government to fund researches. The government of Nigeria should put machinery in motion to support researches. This is the only way to diversify Nigeria’s economy outside oil. Research and development will help agriculture and generally improve our ways of doing things. We have plants throughout Nigeria that can perform wonders. It is only research and development that their potentialities can be found.
The substance in Silver, you say, cures many ailments; what difference has it again from herbal products because they are accused of curing many ailments with one substance?
The difference between Silver and others is that it is well researched and we know how it works. It is documented by various universities, including the US Institute of Health and the University of Arizona. They tested it on bird flu. These are top leading universities around the world that have evaluated and understood the operations of Silver. You can take it in any lab in the world, and make a drop of it among organisms and see the result. We use nanotechnology to break it into this level.
How would you evaluate herbal medical practitioners in Nigeria?
I have proposed to the federal government to strengthen our universities. We can’t sit down and say we want to do everything. If we have good universities that are doing high quality research, biotech companies should be involved in the translational aspect of it. The basic work should be done by universities. The companies make their money from their products. They give money to universities to embark on basic researches. The university patents those inventions, then companies can license the technology from the university. This is how to sustain universities and not government funding.