Friday Olokor, Abuja

Nigeria has not been progressing rapidly in the local research effort towards developing vaccines to fight COVID-19 because of poor funding, the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Research and Development said on Monday.

While warning the Federal Government to exercise caution and weigh all options before purchasing any of the vaccines for fighting coronavirus, the organisation raised fears that medicine security threat level in Nigeria was still very high, adding that prioritisation of local products and funding for research would help conquer the threat.

The Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of NIPRD, Dr Obi Adigwe, who stated these during a press conference in Abuja, lamented that lack of adequate funding was robbing the agency of opportunity to showcase the potentials and capacity of its professionals.

According to him, none of the corporate organisations or philanthropists approached for funding assistance responded positively.

He said, “The only movement we’ve seen is NIPRD articulating intellectual position that will enable us hit the ground running when the relevant resources are provided.

“But you can’t undertake this paradigm shift without the prioritisation from top leaders and policy makers and you cannot achieve that paradigm shift without funding. Those two things have not happened yet, so the threat level to medicine remains extremely high.”

The DG stated that NIPRD had produced a drug (Niprimune Capsule) that may help patients recover from COVID-19 but lack of funding to undertake the remaining scienctific activities prevented the product from being in the market.

He said, “We are proposing Niprimune capsule—with Andrographis paniculata ingredient —for treatment of COVID-19. We projected it for COVID-19. But it needs to pass through those processes before it will be approved.

“We have done all the pre-clinical tests that show us that this will be very good and we now need to move to the clinical side and it is expensive. And that is what we need funding for and nobody is coming forward.

“We used our machine learning and artificial intelligence capacity to identify that this product ‘Niprimune’ may have activities in management of COVID-19.

“During that time, almost a year ago, we have come on the television to appeal to philanthropists, development partners to support NIPRD with the funds that will enable us undertake the remaining scienctific activities that will enable us bring this product to the market for CORONAVIRUS.

“It will shock you to learn that, a few days ago, the authorities in Thailand approved the active ingredient of this product that I am holding in my hand. The authorities in Thailand have approved a tea based on this for treatment of COVID-19.

“Even though NIPRD is one of the first in the world to come up with the hypothesis and this could help in COVID-19, we still have not gotten support to the level where we will finish the science to enable us bring this product.

“For this particular product, if we haven’t written requests letters for support, we have written at least to 30 development partners and philanthropic organisations, the Otedolas, Rabius, Dangotes, all the foundations, MTN and all others.

“It will surprise you to know that the only organisation that has responded to partner with us to take the product to the next level is an organization that is situated in Burkina Faso. Does this not tell you how rich people in this country care for medical research?”

“So as regard funding, we are not where we are supposed to be as a country. In Nigeria currently, the data suggest that 0.04 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product is channeled towards research and development.

“There is no developed country around the world that does not spend around 1- 5 per cent of their GDP on research and development. What it means is that those who are developed spend 100 times per capital as a country as to what we spend on research and development, so we are still far behind.”

Speaking on Nigeria’s current quest for COVID-19 vaccine, the Director of NANO Medicine Centre at NIPRD, Prof. Martins Emeje, cautioned goverment “to not be in undue haste so as not to endanger the lives of the people.”

He said that there is a need to “draw a line between emergency authorization and drug approval as in the case of the COVID-19 vaccinnes now in the market.”

Emeje said that drugs like the current vaccines were suceptible to various reactions when administered, hence the need for multicentre clinical trials.

He said, “The problem is that we are presently facing an emergency, COVID-19 pandemic is an international public health emergency. But I want us to be very clear as a nation because it is not what is an emergency in our country that is an emergency in another country. Let us break the jinx of modern slavery.

“You see the slavery that our parents suffered in the past was that they put chains in their hands, the slavery we are suffering today is brain slavery, where they are not putting chains on our hands but are just using our heads and making us not to believe in ourselves again.”