Research and development (R&D) continues to play critical role in the advancement of economies of nations across the world because the application of its products has dramatically engendered rapid improvement of global economy. As the body of pharmacists in Nigeria – Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) converges for yet another national parley in Umuahia, PharmaTimes X-rays the purpose and imperatives for technological inputs in the quest to advance the nation’s economy even via Pharmaceutical R&D.
The former United States president, Barack Obama alluded very much to this fact when he said that 21st century businesses will rely on American science and technology as well as research and development. Obama also endorsed using academic research to drive economic growth in his last two states of the Union Addresses prior to exiting power.
Indeed, academic research has proven to impact positively on the overall industry performance across nations of the world and the impact had been felt significantly in the pharmaceutical and health sectors. For instance, academic research has played significant role in improving health of populations around the world and also increasing longevity.
Academic research has underpinned major treatment and healthcare interventions such as the discovery of penicillin and in-vitro fertilisation. It is also as a result of academic research that the world keeps recording improved understanding of how lifestyle choices can increase the risk of diseases threatening lives of people.
In fact, academic research enterprise is a major component of the national innovation system in the United States and many industrialised nations of the world. The core competences of academic research help sustain and leverage innovation to the benefit of industry.
And that is why Ivy League universities like Harvard, Yale, M.I.T, and Cambridge among others are world renowned in contributing to the development of world economy through their impactful research initiatives.
But the case is different in Nigeria. R&D initiatives had remained at nascent stages for decades and that partly accounts for the slow progress being recorded in the development of Nigeria in many fronts.
Experts believe that the country is richly endowed with natural and human resources and therefore should belong to the comity of industrialised nations of the world.
A good number of Nigerian universities cannot embark on meaningful research programmes due to lack of funding. Government owned research institutes are not able to conclude on many health related research initiatives because of lack of funding.
And due to the comatose situation of the Nigerian economy stakeholders in the pharmacy profession and industry are calling on members to seek ways to adjust to the prevailing circumstances they have found themselves.
Specifically, the president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Pharm. Ahmed Yakasai had at different fora urged pharmacists to engage in innovative practices in other to create value for their services and thereby overcome the challenges posed by the hard times.
Also in his speech to pharmacists recently, former Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi admonished pharmacists to focus more on initiatives that will facilitate self- sufficiency in the industry as a veritable option to catch up with the developed countries of the world.
There is no doubt that with over 150 manufacturing companies operating in Nigeria, some of which are GMP compliant, the country has the potential to become a powerhouse in Africa with capacity to supply regional needs as well as participate in international tenders.
And if that is to happen, it is important for the country to re-position and strengthen its capacities to deliver services in the sector in line with international best practices. It is also important that the country seeks ways of increasing areas that will offer it competitive advantage.
Investment in R&D in the pharmaceutical sector could be the bulwark the country needs to be insulated from frequent challenges that sudden changes in the prices of crude at the global arena inflicts on the economy of the country. China and India are glaring examples of countries that were hitherto regarded as third world but today both countries are occupying vantage positions in global ranking in the manufacture and exportation of pharmaceutical products and raking in billions in Dollar terms in revenue. At the root of the phenomenal achievements of both countries in the pharmacy industry is the promotion of R&D in all its ramifications.
With massive deposits of hydrocarbons which abound in the country it is embarrassing that no thought is being given to establishment of a benzene plant in Nigeria for the production of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients for the manufacture of medicines.
Therefore, if Nigeria must make the kind of quantum leap that China and India have recorded in the pharmaceutical sub-sector, there is the need for a paradigm shift in approach and a renewed vigour in commitment among stakeholders in the health to effect necessary changes that will culminate in the effective collaborations required for the emergence of an enduring R&D policy in the sector.
Interestingly, the Nigeria Association of Pharmacists in Academia (NAPA), the umbrella body of pharmacists lecturing in faculties of pharmaceutical sciences in Nigerian universities, and the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMG-MAN) are already poised to support efforts aimed at finding workable solutions for addressing the myriad of challenges facing the pharmacy industry and profession in Nigeria.
In a communiqué issued at the end of its15th annual national conference and scientific meeting held in Lagos recently, NAPA, underscored the imperatives of collaboration with other stake holders for meaningful development in the sector.
According to NAPA, there is the need for concerted effort towards collaboration between researchers and the industry to focus research on those items that are useful in the short, mid and long term for national development in order to produce both locally available active molecules and other raw materials such as is needed for anti-malarial and anti-retroviral as one of the ways to attain self-sufficiency in local drug manufacture.
Deliberating on the theme: “Translational Pharmaceutical Research: From Bench-top to Commercialisation”, the association of pharmacists in the academia explained that translational research connotes a way of thinking about, and conducting scientific research in such a way as to make the results applicable to the population being served.
The association recognised that translational research is the missing component in ensuring that the anticipated return on investment in the pharmaceutical sector which is a major barrier is realised.
It however, called on researchers not to give away proprietary rights to their discoveries too quickly but instead go for available tools like patenting, intellectual property rights (IPR), trade marking for effective collaboration with industry investors and managers.
NAPA also advocated for establishment of research clusters/centres in product development in Nigerian universities as a strategy to fast tracking the process of re-invigorating R&D in the country, and however, notes that the role of government and policy instruments is critical in actualising such a strategy.
PMG-MAN on its part used the occasion of its annual pharma expo which took place in Lagos recently to underscore the need for increasing access to healthcare in Nigeria through strategic partnerships to achieve medicines security and national self-sufficiency.
Both NAPA and PMG-MAN are critical stakeholders in the pharmaceutical sub-sector of the Nigeria’s economy and as such their recent outings that tend to focus on what should be done to put the pharmaceutical industry and profession on a rescue mission for the Nigerian economy is quite commendable. However, there are challenges that are likely to impede progress.
In most African countries, partnership between local industries and universities is not very common. Hence, the transformation of research results to products is usually left to the individual who, without the necessary institutional framework and experience, only allows the idea to collect dust in a little known journal.
There are several reasons why the enabling institutional arrangements for such partnerships have not developed over the years. These include the weakness of the research infrastructure, which inevitably leads to a scarcity of scientific research of economic value.
Another factor is the nature of the local industries, which tend to be infant factories of the parent company normally located in foreign countries. These factories do all their technology development activities through their foreign parents and hence have no reason to develop partnerships with local institutions.
There is also the general issue of relevance of research work even where the universities develop their own research agenda. Since research in these institutions is financed by government, there is usually a tendency to distribute funds in an equitable manner that gives every researcher a chance to publish and enhance his/her career.
In such situation, the relevance of the research work to development ceases to be important. As a result, most of the research works are irrelevant to the industrial development of the country.
Obviously the results of such research cannot be commercialised and local entrepreneurs and industries have no desire to forge partnerships with universities operating under such a policy for the award of research grants.
While the weak research base and the nature of the support for research leads to very few research results, it is ironic that even these few results are abandoned prematurely.
Even with all the above mentioned constraints with research, there are still some amounts of research works being undertaken in some institutions which could yield results that should interest local industries.
What must be done
Nothing clearly depicts the weakness in driving R&D in Nigeria as the absence of a national platform for the regulation and strengthening of R&D. It is in this vein that the establishment by law of a National R&D Foundation that will ensure a coordinated national framework for the sustenance and implementation of R&D becomes imperative.
Such a foundation when established, shall promote an effective interface between universities, government and the private sector, especially the industrial subsector of the economy.
The government as a matter of necessity has a vital role to play in encouraging university-industry partnerships, through policy formulation and funding mechanisms. Universities on the other hand, should continue to build capacities, particularly by improving their human resources and training, as well as developing communication strategy with the outside world, and engage in more economically relevant activities, both to improve graduates employment and raise their appeal to the productive sector.
More importantly, since NAPA and PMG-MAN have already identified engagement in partnerships as a viable option to reinvent the wheel of progress in the pharmaceutical sector as captured in their themes during this year’s annual gatherings of both bodies, it would be more rewarding to both bodies and the nation at large if such an idea could be translated to practical demonstrations.