Coronavirus Medication Could be Ready in Weeks – Iwu

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Says $2m is required for large scale production

Chief Executive Officer of Bioresources Development Group, Professor Maurice M. Iwu, has assured Nigerians and the world at large that his plant-based medicine for the treatment of COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, can be made available for use within the next few weeks, without compromising safety or regulatory requirements.

The renowned scientist and professor of Pharmacognosy, who spoke to Pharmanews in a special interview, noted that the plant-based treatment has lead compounds and chemically characterised fractions that have been active against more deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and other lesser known viruses, has shown promise against COVID- 19.

Iwu further stated that in a bid to expedite the availability of the revolutionary medicine for patients in Nigeria, he had met the three concerned ministers in Health, Science and Technology, to work out modalities for the product to be ready in a few weeks.

Below is the full text of the interview:

Congratulations on your plant-based treatment discovery for coronavirus. You described the medicine as a broad spectrum antiviral drug based on your findings. Can you explain the degree of your findings concerning this much anticipated cure?

Please overlook the sensational reports. We do not have a “cure” yet; but we have lead compounds and chemically characterised fractions that are active against SARS- coronavirus that hold promise against COVID-19. It is still work in progress.

According to the experts, COVID-19 is the least lethal of all the known coronavirus.  The candidate compound was found active against the more deadly SARS-coronavirus and other lesser known viruses. So far, it has been found active against four clinically important viruses.  Luckily, the lead compound (BION -3) is one of the most studied natural products in history with a remarkable high safety profile. There are published reports on its pharmacokinetics profile and the putative mechanism of action are being reviewed.

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We intend to follow a dual track of developing an active pharmaceutical ingredient with all the phased clinical trials, and a phytomedicine which will be a combination product formulation containing the three agents (Rhygyfyn) contained in our patents.

Thanks to the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire; the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi and their teams for their efforts in containing the spread of the disease.

Now that Nigeria has a few cases of the disease to handle, how applicable will this plant-based treatment be?

That is actually the reason for informing the relevant ministers in Health and Science and Technology. The product can actually be fast-tracked and ready in a few weeks, without compromising safety or regulatory requirements.  Two of the source plants are already ingredients in a NAFDAC listed product as a tea (IHP –Detox Tea). But for this purpose, recalibration of dose and more appropriate dosage-form will be necessary.

Sir you cited funding as a limitation to the large scale production of this drug. What is the estimated cost for the commercial production of this medicine?

We have not done the numbers yet. But because of the large scale processing equipment that will be required for a cGMP level production, we need about $2m (two million USD).  The other limiting factor is the plant materials. We already operate four organic farms in different parts of Nigeria but the scale of raw materials that may be required may call for extensive cultivation by many out-growers on contract.

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The International Centre for Ethnomedicine and Drug Development (Intercedd) at Nsukka can handle the single chemical entity candidate drug, while our cGMP level Bioprocessing Centre at Umuna-Okigwe, Imo State, will take care of the extraction and processing of biomass.

For easy accessibility by the populace, what distribution channel do you intend to use to prevent faking?

The Bioresources Development Group has always used only registered pharmacies and institutional outlets for the distribution of its dietary supplements and nutraceuticals marketed under the Intercedd Health Products (IHP) label. The raw materials can also be made available to different pharmaceutical companies to manufacture under their own label.

Just like your previous discovery on Garcinia kola as a remedy for Ebola, is there any similar plant-based food or fruit that has shown signs of inhibiting the causative agent of this COVID-19?

Garcinia kola is not a remedy for Ebola but kolaviron (mixed isolates) and Akiluvir (pure isolated single compound) which occur in G. kola seeds that are antiviral. We have Garcinia in capsules now. Learning from that experience, we have not publicly named the plants to avoid people consuming them on their own but all the details are in the patents, as required by law.

During your presentation to the ministers, you mentioned collaboration with international laboratories on bulk extraction of the active compound. Are you also in collaboration with the World Health Organisation on this?

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No, we are not yet collaborating with WHO. We are working with private and government owned institutions in other countries in both the biological assays and chemical optimisation.  The international collaboration is one of the key reasons for briefing the Nigerian government.  We already hold patents on the products which means that it is in public domain.  Having reached agreements with foreign countries, it was imperative that the host country be briefed in line with Kyoto Protocol and Article 8j of the CBD on natural products IPR to safeguard our interest. Although the patents were issued in our names, some of the benefits accruing from them remain part of our national patrimony because the compounds were derived from nature.

Going forward, what kind of support are you seeking from Nigerians and the government as regards this patented treatment?

During the presentation to the ministers, I explained that beyond seeking support from government in cash and kind, we need to re-examine our policy towards support for scientific research, especially in the private sector. I pointed out that targeted studies on drug discovery and development for Neglected Tropical Diseases, Emergent Infections and Orphan Diseases are usually funded by national governments, even when such studies are conducted in private laboratories.

I indicated that it is usually when a crisis of the  nature of the coronavirus epidemics and other pandemics occur that the wisdom of such contributions of funds to a private group of researchers become obvious and the fruits of such public investments become openly and publicly apparent.

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