By Ismaila Chafe, Abuja.
President Muhammadu Buhari has welcomed the exploratory interactions between Nigerian biomedical scientists, officials of the Federal Ministry of Health and BioNTech company, to support the production of messenger RNA vaccines in Nigeria.
The president made the declaration when he met with Mr Holm Keller, Executive Chairman of KENUP Foundation and representative of the CEO of BioNTech, the mRNA vaccine patent holder in Africa, on Thursday in Abuja.
Buhari expressed confidence that the interactions between the parties would be productive, leading to collaborations at many levels — from clinical trials to research and development of new vaccines — and eventually support vaccine manufacturing facilities in the country.
‘‘We are impressed with the numerous possibilities said to be around the mRNA technology and hence seek cooperation with well-intentioned organizations,” he said.
He said that the cooperation included building a strong bilateral partnership with the company and its affiliate bodies, “as science gets closer to understanding the possibilities around successful mRNA technology.
‘‘We believe the mRNA technology will help solve other public health challenges too, especially those peculiar to our tropical environment.
‘‘As you conduct exploratory interactions with our scientists in the biomedical field and officials of the Ministry of Health, I look forward to receiving a commitment.
“This is to expand collaboration to achieve our goal of developing capacities for Research and Development and manufacturing,” he said.
The president recounted the vast inequalities in access to COVID-19 vaccines at the peak of the pandemic.
According to him, Nigeria and many middle-income countries now appreciate the need for global decentralisation and diversification of manufacturing capacity of items critical for public health security.
He also highlighted the many investment opportunities and potentials in the country, urging the Foundation and other prospective investors to pay ‘‘special attention’’ to Africa’s most populous country.
Buhari said that KENUP Foundation would find in Nigeria a suitable research and development ecosystem, in terms of human resource expertise and endemic, deadly disease challenges that required research to help in ending with new vaccines.
He added that Nigeria’s reputable scientific community had the capacity to engage with the Foundation meaningfully in all areas of research and add value to its joint efforts.
‘‘Nigeria has a long tradition in vaccine manufacturing and laboratories for microbiological research, both in private and public facilities, and also for human and veterinary vaccine research, established over 80 years ago.
“You will find in Nigeria biosafety Level 3 laboratories and ongoing initiatives with trusted partners to develop Level 4 capacity too.
‘‘We have a vibrant Health Ethics Research Council and our WHO Maturity Level 3 certified regulatory body, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, regulates vaccines.
“And we have started the process to attain Maturity Level 4, which makes pharmaceutical products made in Nigeria, including vaccines, marketable abroad.
‘‘We invest significantly in health, education, in Research and Development and encourage discovery and partnership in joint ventures, such as with a private pharmaceutical company to begin routine vaccine manufacturing in-country.’’
The president described Nigeria as the gateway to West African business and commerce, as well as the preferred destination for ECOWAS citizens in search of markets.
Buhari said: “Biovaccines Nigeria Limited, a public-private partnership company and other private companies are at varying stages of acquiring capacities for local manufacturing of vaccines.”
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said that Buhari had a passion for public health security, hence his reception of “this team that was around to explore possibilities of collaboration in manufacture of new vaccines.”
On his part, Keller described his organization as a public-benefit foundation dedicated to innovation in public health.
He said that he was thrilled to learn of the great work which Buhari and his administration had done for Nigeria, adding: “The aim of our mission is to establish research partnerships, which would benefit Nigeria and Africa.
“We want to contribute to vaccine equity through a manufacturing scheme that is suitable to the country.
“We are working on malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, monkey pox, and other vaccines, to be manufactured in Africa.”
Keller said that there was also a plan to find African personalized treatment for cancer, which was only available to the richest of the rich in some parts of the world.
He said: “We want to change that, and are working on therapeutic vaccines that can stop the growth of tumours.
“We want it to be available globally, and not just in wealthy countries.
“We want to explore opportunities in this domain, and support your (Buhari’s) good work.’’