Recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) partnered with South African Consortium to establish its first COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub. What structures should Nigeria put in place so that the country can budge in that direction?
For WHO to partner with South African Consortium to establish its first COVID mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub, means the country has pre-qualification and country can only quality when it is interested in exporting drugs or vaccines to other countries.
Nigeria is not yet ready to make mass production of vaccines, but for us to move in that direction, we need to have a vision and that vision should be to prioritize R&D in the country.
Because the production of vaccines require huge funds, we should first of all be interested in making drugs and vaccines for ourselves. I have suggested that companies need to come together and develop a workable strategies, so that they can get funding from government and maybe from international organizations for the purpose of making vaccines or drugs for Nigeria.
COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of local production to address health emergencies, strengthen regional health security and expand sustainable access to health products. Do Nigerian scientists have what it takes to produce a COVID-19 vaccine?
Nigeria is a home to one of the best brain in pharmaceutical scientists in the world. Nigeria has the human capacity to manufacture any type of drug, to undertake research and development into any type of drug, whether it is synthetic or natural. The country also has the professionals, intellectual and industrial know-how that is needed to produce vaccines.
In terms of Infrastructural capacity, however, Nigeria does not have the infrastructural capacity to manufacture, not just vaccine, but all drugs.
Right now as we speak, Nigeria does not manufacture any drug. Nigeria import 100 per cent of its drug needs from other countries. We import raw materials, that is active pharmaceutical ingredients, then we compound them or produce them into capsule, tablets, injection and syrups etc. Sometimes, we import already finished products from India, China and the United Kingdom (UK) into our health system and into the market to be sold in the pharmacy or patent shops or in our hospitals.
So, we do not manufacture anything and that is because, the infrastructure that is required for Nigeria pharmaceutical space, industry players, that is the scientists to undertake synthesis of chemical compound required to make our own drugs and vaccines, are unavailable at this point.
Can Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) intervention funds help in local production of drugs and vaccines in Nigeria?
On the central bank of Nigeria intervention grant for research, the grant is a welcome development, but it will not be enough to produce a vaccine because we are starting from afresh.
Research and Development has been neglected over the years. Nigerian leaders does not prioritize Research and Development. We are hearing of intervention because of the COVID-19 that dealt with all of us.
When we all discovered that the entire aviation industry was shut down and nobody could travel anywhere, and so the rich men in Nigeria, discovered that their huge money was useless to them because they cannot travel abroad to buy healthcare, then they begin to look inward. It was then they realised that medicine is a security material. They realised that handing over the production of medicine to foreign countries is a huge mistake and lack of governance prowess. So they began to look inward and that is why you are hearing of interventions here and there.
While the intervention fund is too small, however, I commend that initiative for a start. That intervention must continue, for us to achieve the aim and objective of the grant in the first place. If CBN makes it a one off intervention, I bet you, we will be back to square zero, by the time the next pandemic will come, because I can assure you that there will be another pandemic in the future.
If R&D funding is consistent, will Nigeria scientists be able to produce a viable COVID-19 vaccine in the next five years?
Countries that prepare for war in the time of peace are those that will survive. It is not during war that you begin to buy ammunition. It is the time of peace that you began to do research and prepare.
In 1976, when Ebola virus broke out in Democratic Republic of Congo, American scientists took some blood samples from DRC to UN. More than 30 years later, before Ebola virus became an issue in the world, and at that time, USA already had therapeutic agent waiting for it. That is how to be a responsible country.
For Nigeria to be able to produce a vaccine, CBN intervention must be a yearly initiative. CBN must, as a matter of necessity, fund the project for 25 years, It must be able to dole out N50 billion to scientists in this country to continue to undertake Research and Development into our medicinal plan and then we will be able to come up with our own vaccine. By the way, vaccine does not have to be a biological material obtained only from organisms, it can also be plant based vaccine.
If the funding is consistent, and CBN is determine in prioritizing research and development, in the next five years, we will be able to produce our first vaccine for COVID-19. But anyone that thinks that COVID-19 vaccine from Nigeria will be ready soon because CBN has given researchers N500m, is a joker because N500m does not produce a vaccine.
For a start, I will advise that CBN should select five researchers from National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) base, merge them together for the purpose of the local production of COVID-19 vaccine and provide a yearly fund of N500m for 10 years. I can assure you that before the 10 years, they will be able to come up with a vaccine, provided the funding is consistent for like 10 years.
Government cannot fund R&D alone, what is your advice to pharmaceutical companies and private sector in funding R&D in Nigeria?
The pharmaceutical companies and private sector should also step up to fund research and development in Nigeria, as government cannot do it alone. It was AstraZeneca pharmaceutical company that funded or partly funded the AstraZeneca vaccine we are using today. Pfizer also funded its own vaccine, so pharmaceutical companies should be ready to do so in Nigeria and stop funding election campaigns that have little value on Nigerians.