The rise of a global knowledge economy has intensified the need for strategic partnerships between universities and the industry. It is true that the business of tomorrow would wear an academic gown. Such partnerships should be designed to run longer, invest more, look farther ahead and enhance the competitiveness of companies, universities and the state economies within which they operate. These partnerships seek to transform the role of the research university/organisation in the 21st century, anchoring it as a vital centre of competence, to help tackle social challenges and drive economic growth.
In the West African region, our task is to first make this belief possible, to find champions of change, showcase models that worked, adapt these models to our unique setting and to demonstrate that we have something to offer and that we could do so profitably.
The West African Pharmaceutical Innovation Project (WAPIP) is a joint venture private sector driven initiative whose mandate is to drive the development of active and effective linkages between the pharmaceutical industry and research organisations within the West African region. The project executes the West African Pharmaceutical Innovation Awards (WAPIP AWARDS) and also provides the necessary apparatus for an effective integration of business development services in pharmaceutical research undertakings.
Achieving effective research-industry partnership is a big leap. It requires each side to engage far beyond the conventional exchange of research for funding. When they work well, strategic partnerships merge the discovery-driven culture of the university with the innovation-driven environment of the company. To make this chemistry work, each side must overcome the cultural and communications divide that tends to impair industry- university partnerships of all types and undercut their potential.
The team at WAPIP seeks to address the challenge of bridging the pharmaceutical industry-university divide by highlighting what makes universities/research organisations attractive as industry partners, what structures make for excellent partnerships and what approach produces seamless interactions. These would be done within our unique circumstances.
No doubt a challenging task, the project seeks to build on a growing pool of academic research about the state of industry-university collaborations. One of such is from that summarised in the report presented by the Science Business Innovation Board in Europe. (see www.wapip.org)
- To create ownership for pharmaceutical innovation amongst industry, research organisations, government and other stakeholders.
- To develop guidelines for the development of effective pharmaceutical research-industry collaborations.
- To create and manage an annual Pharmaceutical Innovation Awards programme for research undertakings that meet certain guidelines within various categories.
- To promote the need for an effective integration of business development services in everyday operations of public and private research organisations.
- To help create and maintain a database of potential innovations within the West African pharmaceutical industry and to promote the commercialisation of such innovations.
- To provide the platform for the development of bio-entrepreneurs and acquisition of skills required for financial and knowledge management within the pharmaceutical industry.
- To help would-be-researchers find collaborative relationships with other researchers and obtain support from the industry.
- To contribute to the growth of the West African economy through a thriving African Phyto-Pharmaceutical Industry.
As a company limited by guarantee, WAPIP would offer business advisory services to client organisationsto help achieve research-industry collaborations in four major areas:
a. Collaborations that impact teaching and learning for both research and industry.
b. Collaborations that develop new funding streams for research organisations.
c. Collaborations that help rethink the role of the research institution or university.
d. Strategic collaborations.
Specific business service offerings would include project management services on:
a. Research contract for product development, quality control studies, pre-clinical and clinical studies,etc.
b. Collaborative research and subsequent licensing for commercialisation (e.g. pilot scale studies and clinical trials).
c. Licensing and commercialisation of existing research products.
The WAPIP Business Advisory Unit is managed by Onel Consults Limited in collaboration with other partners in the project. The unit is essentially a consultancy unit that provides the requisite business, legal and technical skill set that would be required in translating products of research to useful products on the shelves.
The Business Advisory Unit provides trainings and consultancy services on intellectual property right issues, research-industry collaborations, product development and commercialisation. Other services include the creation of business plans, spin-off companies, marketing studies and agency services for the provision of seed financing and venture investments.
Working as a network of business development and management consultants, researchers, clinicians,lawyers and venture financing experts, the unit is such that would help create the effective linkages required for a successful research-industry partnership.
In Nigeria, the defunct Xechem Nigeria Pharmaceutical Ltd in partnership with the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) showed with NICOSAN™ that Nigeria could develop and manufacture herbal medicine with global acceptance. NICOSAN™ attained orphan drug status in the EU and in the USA. It is reported to be much safer than Hydroxyurea (Hydrea®), the only other popularly available medication that can decrease the frequency of painful crises in adults and children with the sickle cell anaemia disease. This fact cannot be overstated. No doubt, there are present challenges but the implications of some similar results in this manner would tremendously change the landscape and the mind set of pharmaceutical endeavour in Nigeria.
The major milestone in the course of the discovery of NICOSAN™ was the clinical trial establishing its safety and efficacy in human beings. These clinical trials were conducted in Nigeria and in the United States of America. In Nigeria, clinical trials are the major hindrance to developing herbal medicines that are globally acceptable and which can be prescribed by physicians. With a robust regulatory structure, very large population and relatively cheaper operational cost, it is safe to say that Nigeria is a good destination for clinical trials. Though the cost of organising a clinical trial is high, a proactive thrust focusing on robust public-private collaborations would go a long way in overcoming the limitations.
At the centre of these noble intentions is capacity development. People drive research-industry partnerships; people lead research organisations, universities and industry. There is therefore the need for us to have sufficient faith to compel action, to harbour a clear vision and the will to persevere; to persevere at relevant capacity development and proactive collaboration.
The late Chief M.K.O Abiolarecognised this need and in 1990 sponsored a trip to China for some top professionals in the Nigerian pharmaceutical research and development industry. Then he foresaw a nation that could garner great economic muscle from her medicinal plants, while meeting her healthcare needs. The four-man team was led by the late Dr. Fred Adenika (a pharmacist and the first chairman of the board of NIPRD), who later wrote a book on the China experience and the Nigerian challenge (Developing Traditional Medicine in Nigeria, Lessons from China 1990).Years later, NIPRD via NICOSAN™ showed that this was not a wasted investment, though we are yet to reach the zenith.
A Chinese proverb says that “the journey of a thousand miles starts with but one step.”This is no doubt an uncertain journey of discovery and knowledge. It promises to be long, exhausting and often frustrating; but ultimately, one hopes it would be rewarding and fruitful. Though we must caution ourselves not to expect miracles, we however know that in Africa, the impossible is possible.