The inability of Nigeria to invest in research and development in the field of health and medical sciences is beginning to take toll on the country’s public health and financial sectors.
This has left Nigeria totally dependent on donor countries, the World Health Organisation and other institutions not only for drugs and vaccines but also in search for solutions for public health challenges like the Lassa fever, which is peculiar to the country.
While most countries are known to invest a percentage of their GDP on R&D generally, with China, United States, Israel and South Korea leading the way, Nigeria is not on the list of countries that invest at least $50 million annually.
Even by standards in Africa, Nigeria is doing poorly. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, South Africa created the Network for Genomic Surveillance In South Africa. Grants came from the South African Medical Research Council, and the South African Department of Science and Innovation.
The investment paid off as the country was able to identify the Omicron variant of the coronavirus without resorting to help from other countries or international health institutions.
Almost 100 per cent of the pharmaceutical companies in Nigeria do not carry out any kind of research for the development of drugs, LEADERSHIP Weekend checks have revealed.
The checks further revealed that even though most of these companies have Research and Development (R&D) departments, they end up importing everything or part of the ingredients in producing their drugs.
While this has partly been attributed to lack of collaboration between researchers, industrialists and entrepreneurs, experts in the pharmaceutical sector have blamed the government for what they described as lack of interest on the part of government to link the sectors.
Immediate past president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Maxi Sam Ohuabunwa, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that aside the role of government, there is also a problem of lack of communication, while stressing the need for researchers to develop a method of communication to industrialists and entrepreneurs.
He noted that the level of manufacturing in the country remains at the tertiary and secondary levels, saying by the time the country starts more primary manufacturing, there will be a greater need and focus for local value addition.
He said, “The first reason is the lack of communication. I tell the researchers that they have to design a method of communication to industrialists and to entrepreneurs. Researchers like to do research and publish but most of the researches they publish are not read by industrialists, and the industrialists and entrepreneurs may not also have the patience to read through the file of academics with all their jargon.
“So my suggestion is that the academia design a marketing tool whereby they can find a way to speak the language of entrepreneurs and industrialists in presenting their researches especially those ones that have application to the industries, to find a way to sell their research findings for benefit the community. One leg is research, the other is development.
“I think this is why there is no appropriate communication; the researches are not marketed. There are a couple of things which if they were done, industrialists and entrepreneurs may have developed them.”
Ohuabunwa, who is also the founder and former CEO of Neimeth Pharmaceuticals, lamented that most researches done in the universities are to obtain a doctoral degree, stressing that it is important for the country to do researches that are directed at solving problems rather than just for academic purposes.
“Most of the researches we do, people do on their own to get a promotion in the university. For example, the CBN during this COVID started supporting research. That is the way to go so that research can be directed at solving problems, not necessarily for getting a Ph.D.
“Those are the issues of government – linking the academia with the industrialists, and also bringing the academia and industrialists to invest in research.
“There is a lack of government activeness. Government is only active when it wants to create confusion. Instead of promoting you, they create obstacles for you. So we need to have governments that are promotive; promote science and technology, education, industrialisation and not sitting down in the office in Abuja and answering minister of industry without even understanding how the industry is run,” he said.
On human trials for drugs, Ohuabunwa said every new drug requires human trial, saying a new drug cannot be brought into the market unless it is a copy drug.
“For example, if you come out with a new drug, let’s say paracetamol, and you are the first company to produce it, you must do clinical trial to show that it is safe and efficacious but if paracetamol has become generally available, any manufacturer can do it. You don’t need a clinical trial if you are doing your own brand. For example, when the panadol people brought Panadol, they did clinical trial but when the Emzor and others started , they did not do clinical trial; what they need is to have what is called ‘bioequivalent’ – to say what you are doing is the same quality with what the other person who did the clinical trial did.
On why Nigeria has not made meaningful progress regarding local production of COVID-19 vaccine, he said that governments are not investing in research and so the country does not have the research capacity.
“We have capability because we have very good researchers, very good scientists; you need more than human beings; you need investment in equipment. The investment started during COVID and some work is ongoing, it will take some time before we see the new effort,” he explained.
Also, the head, research and development, National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), Prof. Martins Emeje, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that it is actually an insult for many pharmaceutical companies to say they have R&D unit, because most of them do not understand what R&D is in the first place.
He, however, said that pharmaceutical companies like Fidson, May & Baker, Evans and Neimeth have chief executive officers who appear to understand what R&D means, adding that they only need encouragement from government by way of provision of conducive environment, like reducing tariffs on the products they are producing in a way that will encourage them to do local drugs production.
Emeje stressed the need for pharmaceutical companies or industries to establish foundations, or set aside funds to support specific research projects to solve specific problems in the society.
“For example, Fidson can decide that out of N1.2 billion declared as profit after tax, it will give N200 million to research to come up with a product for malaria or purchase malaria vaccine for the Nigerian children. As we speak, there is a malaria vaccine, which is the outcome of a research at Oxford University, supported by GSK while AstraZeneca supported its own COVID-19 vaccine.
“The pharmaceutical industry and other industries like Aviation, etc, should set aside part of their profits after tax to support research and development; they should support community driven research.”
Sharing Ohuabunwa’s view, Emeje said, “If you go to some of the developed countries, most of the research done by postgraduate students are bankrolled by the pharmaceutical industry. So the results of their works go back to the pharmaceutical industry for commercialisation, while the students get their degree and become part of the royalties that come out of the products in the market.
“Nigeria is far from this kind of environment yet, but I believe that what COVID-19 has taught us is that our government and stakeholders have realised that this is what we should have been doing, because when all countries were locked up, and nobody could travel to other countries for medical healthcare, they all realised that it is necessary to be in charge of your own medicine.
“One of the positive things that came out of the pandemic is the fact that CBN now has a research grant for academic research, and some pharmaceutical companies also benefited from the CBN’s intervention funds, and I want CBN to sustain it, because if we continue like this, in the next 10 to 20 years, Nigeria will not be where we are today, because by then, we will start producing our own medicine.”
He said Nigeria knows how to formulate policy, for instance, it has the National Health Strategic Development Plan, which is a very fantastic document, but none of the industries is using it to support development.
“We are all shouting government must do this and that, but government cannot do everything for us. Though government has its own faults, like the stealing and corruption – there is no argument about that, but the private sector must help restore our national pride.
“If our captains of industry have shame, if they have some sense of national pride, then they should devote part of their profit after tax to support R&D in Nigeria. Right now, most of them are only interested in donating money for political campaigns which will commence in 2022. A lot of them will start donating huge amounts of money like N50 million, N100 million to fuel political campaigns because they want to put themselves in a strategic position to either get ministerial positions or contracts. The implication of this kind of action is that our country will continue to retrogress.”
On government formulating a law to compel captains of industry to help develop research capabilities in the country, Emeje said he cannot advise government to make a law to force companies to support R&D because that will be against human rights.
“Government cannot make laws on how its citizens should spend their money. But, if they are responsible, they will do the right thing willingly. We expect that in a country of over 200 pharmaceutical companies, at least 160 of them should be responsible and if up to that number are responsible, then our country will not be where it is today.”
Buhari Charges Nigerian Varsities On Cure for COVID-19
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday tasked Nigerian universities to come up with a cure for Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Represented by Mr John Mairafi, a director with the National Universities Commission (NUC), Buhari gave the charge in Oye-Ekiti, at the 5th and 6th convocation ceremony of the Federal University (FUOYE).
He charged scholars in universities to engage in global search for both pharmaceutical and non -pharmaceutical solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I want to challenge Nigerian universities generally and the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE) in particular to contribute to the national transformation.
“This has become pertinent at a time like this when humanity has been confronted with a lot of troubling issues, such as COVID-19 pandemic.
“My administration will continue to welcome constructive criticisms from all Nigerians on how to address our country’s various challenges,” he said.
Buhari assured the graduands that his administration would continue to support the university system through improved funding and the development of infrastructure.
While congratulating them, he said that his administration would continue to invest more resources in job creation and entrepreneurship development.
Also speaking at the ceremony, the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Governing Council, Dr Muhammed Yahuza, commended the vice chancellor, Prof. Abayomi Fasina, for his tireless efforts towards the growth and development of the institution.
He assured the staff and management that the Governing Council would not rest until the university has been declared the best in Nigeria.
The chairman congratulated the graduating students and prayed that God would guide and guard them in their future endeavours.
Earlier, the vice chancellor, Prof. Fasina, said his aspiration was to transform FUOYE into a great institution of learning.
He said that the university’s growth has been hampered by inadequate funding, security issues and inadequate infrastructure.
He urged the various stakeholders, including media practitioners to join the management in promoting the university.
The vice chancellor advised the graduands to be the best in their future careers and always carry themselves as good ambassadors of the university.