The National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) said it has developed a local drug, NIPRIMUNE, an immunomodulatory phytomedicine, for the management of COVID-19 patients in Nigeria.
NIPRD Director General, Dr Obi Peter Adigwe, in an exclusive interview with Pharmanews, said the formulation is currently undergoing various relevant processes that will qualify it as an adjunct therapy in managing COVID-19.
Adigwe revealed that, as an immunomodulatory herbal formulation, the drug will be of immense assistance to people who have underlying illnesses, or whose immune systems are compromised, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
He also disclosed that a significant amount of studies have been undertaken on the product, adding that efforts are currently being made to secure the funding required to complete the necessary clinical studies in humans. Below is the full text of the interview:
With the outbreak of COVID-19 in the global community, each nation has been seeking local treatment options. As an institution for pharmaceutical research and development, has NIPRD identified any medicinal plant to be developed for the treatment of the infection?
The National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) has developed an immunomodulatory phytomedicine called NIPRIMUNE,, which is currently undergoing the various relevant processes that will enable it be considered as adjunct therapy in managing COVID-19.
NIPRIMUNE is an immunomodulatory phytomedicine, which can be used to stimulate and improve the immune status of Nigerians, in the face of the prevailing pandemic. In addition, it can be included as an adjunct in the therapy of COVID-19 to aid in the body’s natural defences against the virus while clinical interventions are being administered.
It is now well known that people who have underlying illnesses, or whose immune systems are compromised, are the most vulnerable to COVID-19. What this means is that a product like NIPRIMUNE can be invaluable in the toolkit of any physician faced with management options for COVID-19.
So far, a significant amount of studies have been undertaken on this product and efforts are currently being made to secure the funding required to complete the necessary clinical studies on humans.
There have been several claims on the social media by herbal medicine practitioners on their locally made formulations for the treatment and cure of the infection. As a research and development (R&D) institution, has the agency tried to research into the active ingredients in these local preparations?
You are right that a good number of Nigerians have made claims regarding the management, treatment and cure of COVID 19. These claimants range from professionals and scientists in academia to traditional medicine practitioners and others.
While some of the claims look plausible, based on existing knowledge on the pathophysiology of the disease, as well as some of the promising drug regimens that are being trialled around the world, some look implausible.
Common to all the claims is that they are based on plants and plant preparations. The value that NIPRD brings to the national response, is its ability to harness its considerable expertise and cognate experience to carry out a systematic evaluation of these claims with a view to identifying those that should be subjected to further assessment.
This can be the rate limiting step to developing efficacious interventions in treating this pandemic that has challenged the health infrastructures of all nations of the world. NIPRD has, over the years, been actively involved in the development and assessment of herbal medicines. It provides services to Traditional Medicine Practitioners (TMPs) and other phytomedicine developers in the area of safety and efficacy assessments for regulatory registration purposes amongst others.
It was engaged in the past by the federal government to carry out the evaluation and validation of HIV claims. This is incontrovertible evidence of NIPRD’s capacity and ability to validate the claims of products perceived to have activity against COVID-19.
In addition to identifying active ingredients whilst validating claims of TMPs, NIPRD also provides an invaluable service to the nation in ensuring that Nigerians are not exploited by being exposed to unsafe and toxic products, as well as spurious claims.
The search for a viable vaccine is ongoing in different countries to reduce cases and fatalities of the infection of COVID-19 to the barest minimum. Is NIPRD involved in the search for a local or conventional vaccine process for the virus?
The processes involved in the development of vaccines are very complex, expensive and time-consuming. Whilst recent advances in the various branches of the relevant sciences can significantly shorten the time required to get these products, a significant amount of resources are still required to achieve successful output.
Having said that, all over the globe, there is a concerted effort to ensure an expedited approval for an evidence-based intervention for COVID-19. A significant number of potential vaccines and medicines for COVID-19 have been reported to be in development in various countries across the world.
We have also seen an unprecedented level of collaboration between various entities, across the entire spectrum, towards the development of vaccines and other relevant interventions.
As you are aware, NIPRD was established with the primary objective of enhancing the development and commercialisation of pharmaceutical raw materials, drugs, vaccines and biological products. NIPRD is also mandated to engage in activities relating to capacity building, policy making, data collation, drug distribution and the development of contextual partnerships that can expedite access to healthcare.
As Nigeria’s vaccine manufacturing industry is still at its infancy, NIPRD’s role in the present pandemic has focused mainly around increasing advocacy for further developing local capacity, as well as coordinating international partnerships to ensure timely access to relevant interventions for our people.
NIPRD has also been involved in developing collaborative efforts with international partners regarding ensuring that Nigerian perspective is brought to the fore in global vaccines development.
Considering the spread of the infection in the country, from a researcher’s point of view, how close are we to overcoming the burden in Nigeria?
So far, the evidence suggests that Nigeria has done a commendable job in articulating a national response to the pandemic, especially when you compare our figures to similar data from places like the United States, Brazil, United Kingdom and Italy.
We should however look beyond this crisis, and begin to focus on the opportunities. The Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of two characters, one represents “danger”, while the other represents “opportunity”. Whilst COVID-19 is currently viewed as a crisis, an opportunity also exists. That opportunity lies in the area of medicines security.
Currently, Africa and indeed most of the developing world, is faced with challenges associated with a lack of medicines security. About 70 per cent of all medicines used in Nigeria are imported into the country, and this goes against the concept of medicines security that argues that unless a people exert sufficient control over how their medicines and healthcare commodities are produced, sustainable access to relevant, affordable, high quality products cannot be guaranteed in that setting.
The dependence on importation for majority of the medicines used in Nigeria is unsustainable and exponentially increases Nigeria’s exposure to substandard pharmaceutical products.
Today, Nigeria’s cohort of pharmaceutical sector manufacturers, professionals and researchers represent a significant proportion of all pharmaceutical stakeholders in Africa. There is also evidence of some maturity in the Nigerian pharmaceutical sector, as evidenced by the WHO GMP certification as well as other quality indicators achieved in both the private and the public sectors.
Despite all these significant advantages, Nigeria’s market share of the continental market is disappointingly low. This means that despite its potential to be a pharmaceutical manufacturing hub, Nigeria is not harnessing resources that can position it to capture the continental market.
With the proper policies, the relevant prioritisation, and collaborative engagement, Nigeria can emerge Africa’s manufacturing hub, post COVID-19
What are the promising phytomedicines that could be put on R&D front burner for the cure of the disease?
Data protection guidelines and intellectual property concerns mean that I cannot publicly disclose key ingredients of NIPRD’s or other practitioner’s formulations. What I can tell you, however, is that Nigeria is richly blessed with plants that have proven ethnomedicinal properties, and there is a good possibility that one or more of these can emerge as a product that can be used in the management of the disease.
As you are aware, our institutional confidence in the nation’s great potential in phytomedicnes led us to develop the Contextual Processing Protocol (CPP). In conceptualising the protocol, we designed the CPP to harness phytomedicines and other natural resources that are abundant in Nigeria.
The international phytomedicines’ market is a multi-billion dollar per annum market, which Nigeria, despite its potential, has no significant stake in. We therefore developed the CPP with the aim of harnessing the phytomedicinal potential of naturally occurring plants, using local human capital, to expedite the production of finished products for local consumption, as well as for export.
Indigenes and residents of the targeted areas where the natural resources are located will be deliberately involved in the project in order to maximise the socioeconomic benefits of this concept. Significant effort was also made to select products with high viability, and which have significant potential to improve access to healthcare and wellbeing, when processed.
The development of the project has also been designed to harness products from each of the six geopolitical regions in Nigeria. In essence, in addition to the potential for Nigeria’s rich biodiversity to contribute to the response to COVID-19, prioritising our phytomedicinal potential can also help the nation achieve critical socioeconomic objectives in job creation, capacity building and revenue generation.