Former Minister of Health and President, Nigeria Academy of Pharmacy (NAPharm), Prince Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi, has charged pharmacists and other healthcare professionals doing research and development in the country to join the current wave of industrial revolution, known as the fourth industrial revolution. This, he said, can be achieved by embracing the three drivers of the new phenomenon, which are: big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
Adelusi-Adeluyi gave the charge while highlighting the place of Pharmacy in the scheme of global advances, at the recent NAPharm investiture programme, held in Lagos.
He explained that artificial intelligence is helping to make pharmaceutical research and new drug discovery less expensive and more productive. He stressed that, with AI, better, safer and more affordable medicines can be created within a much shorter time frame.
According to the NAPharm president, “There is a clear imperative for pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists and medical professionals in the field of research and development in developing countries like Nigeria to increasingly tap into this world of big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and partake of the revolution that is happening in our very eyes.”
The former health minister stated that, just as it is being witnessed in the financial technology (fintech) space, there is considerable potential for artificial intelligence in the pharmaceutical space. Such potential, he said, is not limited to the relief of pain and suffering from disease but also includes economic growth and development.
Accordingly, Adelusi-Adeluyi, added, AI penetration must deepen and broaden, especially among pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists in the areas of research and development.
He also emphasised the need to collaborate with scientists globally, saying: “In a world that has become intricately networked, there is no excuse for our researchers to work in silos anymore.
“Pharmaceutical researchers need to digitise their work, in order to facilitate access by other scientists to such work-in-progress and in so doing facilitating the possibility of collaboration with fellow scientists, both within and outside the country.”
He added: “Pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists and medical professionals of all hues in the developing world must refuse to be left behind in a world that is being formidably impacted by the forces of big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning. We must make a deliberate effort to stake a claim to this global revolution.”
Adelusi-Adeluyi further argued that, while knowledge and experience in artificial intelligence appear to be currently low in Nigeria, policymakers and other stakeholders can begin to work towards incorporating these and other elements of data management in the training curriculum of pharmacists at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
“This way, pharmacists can begin to imbibe the digital mindset and relate more empirically with the manifold possibilities of deploying digital solutions to solving real world problems, including drug discovery,” he enthused.
The NAPharm boss further observed that funding appears to follow good and profitable causes, saying if stakeholders in the Nigerian pharmaceutical sector are able to demonstrably prove that they are capable of harvesting the possibility of AI and machine learning in contributing to the emergence of new and better drugs, they will attract the interest of venture capital firms and angel investors from around the world.
He therefore called on all concerned stakeholders to dedicate themselves to tapping into the new digital phenomena that are changing the world, while tasking the government to create the right environment that will make meaningful research possible.
“In addition to helping to ensure that basic facilities, including clean water and electricity are available, government policy direction must also be such that deliberately enables artificial intelligence to take root and grow.
“For instance, government can help to create a level playing ground for all by providing free and open access to big data. It could also help to deliberately, through incentive and subsidies, attract technology incubators in the artificial intelligence space,” Adelusi-Adeluyi said.
Reflecting on the impact of COVID-19 in Nigeria, the former health minister stated that the pandemic has taught Nigeria the imperativeness of medicines security, particularly as it relates to local drug manufacturing.
He pointed out that with the abundance of hydrocarbon in the country, Nigeria needs to be committed to the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), rather than relying on importation.
He stressed the need for pharmacists to enlighten the country’s political leadership, including the current presidential aspirants, on the subject, and interrogate them on their plan for utilising Nigeria’s oil and gas deposit.
In his words, “The political leadership needs to better appreciate why a petrochemical industry is critical to Nigeria and pharmacists have a role not only to continue to drive this enlightenment but also participate actively in the electoral process.
“It is in the light of the value that a functional petrochemical industry will translate to for Nigeria that NAPharm has continued to look forward to the commencement of the Dangote refinery and its associated petrochemical plant with elation.”
Adelusi-Adeluyi noted that the academy had been informed that the initial focus of the petrochemical plant of the Dangote refinery would be polypropylene, saying this will be a boost to the nation’s industrialisation efforts.
He added that the academy seeks to engage Dangote refinery to discuss the possibility of including the production of aromatic hydrocarbons in the second phase, noting that aromatic hydrocarbon will be of critical value to the pharmaceutical industry and the quest to produce APIs.