Nigerian researchers engaged in the Tertiary Education Trust Fund-sponsored Vaccine Development Mega Research Project at Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto, have successfully handed over the Covid-19 DNA vaccine candidate for preclinical trials in Nigeria.
The academics, in a symbolic handover of the vaccine candidate in Sokoto for trial, said despite the numerous challenges faced during the procurement of some of the consumables, equipment and reagents from abroad, within 11 months of the receipt of the first tranche of TETFund grant, the vaccine was ready.
Speaking at the “Presentation of Milestone on the TETFund-sponsored Vaccine Development Mega Research Project,” Vice Chancellor of Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto, Prof Lawal Suleman Bilbis, said the handing over of a vaccine candidate for trials goes a long way to showcase the ability of indigenous scientists to solve the nation’s problems using home-grown resources and facilities.
Bilbis also said the “milestone portrays our expertise in the application of state-of-the art technologies to rapidly develop vaccine candidates against any emerging or re-emerging Infectious diseases in Nigeria.”
He assured that the nation is very close to reaping the benefits of the investment and confidence bestowed upon us, adding that they will converge in the next few months to celebrate the successful completion of this project.
“Let me at this juncture Inform the Executive Secretary that through the support of TETFUND, researchers in this University have been able to work on many other high-impact projects that are already yielding promising results.
“As I speak, we have successfully designed and constructed a recombinant DNA vaccine targeting all the lineages of Lassa virus circulating in Nigeria, using a TETFUND National Research Fund (NRF) grant. Additionally, TETFUND Covid-19 Special Intervention Research Grant has supported our study on the innovative approach to rapidly identify potential therapeutics for COVID-19.
“The study identified 7 orthodox medicines for repurposing and 2 herbal medicines with significant inhibitory activities against the virus that causes COVID-19. Indeed, there are many more TETFund-supported projects, too numerous to mention, which are helping our researchers to showcase their talents and skills, while at the same time, assisting to solve the nation’s problems. We remain extremely grateful to TETFUND for its support,” he said.
Also speaking, the Executive Secretary of TETFund, Arc Sonny Echono, commended the efforts and output by Usman Danfodio University in terms of research and Development, adding that the University has succeeded in accessing over 35 NRF grants over the years, placing it among the best performing Institutions in accessing the National Research Fund, NRF.
Echono appealed to Nigerian researchers not to relent on the overarching goal of delivering a homemade Covid-19 vaccine.
The TETFund boss also disclosed that the mega research project is one out of four projects supported by the fund at a total sum of N1,250,000,000.
He said the aim of the research is to “strengthen collaborative research by promoting decentralized cooperation involving clusters of researchers from different institutions to consolidate problem-solving research and promote Innovation in Nigeria.”
According to him, TETFund has been making concerted efforts to identify more innovative ways of using government and donor funding in research programmes and projects for maximum developmental impact.
“This Project has shown that collaboration among stakeholders, each adding value from their area of specialization to address issues of national priority will achieve the desired goals towards national development and tackling of developmental challenges.
“It also indicates to us that we are moving in the right direction, as one of the mandates of the Fund’s R&D department is to promote multi- disciplinary research that will increase stakeholders’ participation in developmental matters,” he said.
On the success so far recorded by the research group, he said “Few months ago, President Muhammadu Buhari welcomed the CEO of Biotech, the patent holder for mRNA COVID-19 vaccine who had come to interact with Nigerian biomedical scientists and officials of the Federal Ministry of Health on the possibility of supporting mRNA vaccine production in the country.
“It gladdened my heart to be informed that the Vaccine development consortium sponsored by TETFund, under the Mega research project intervention was selected by the Honorable Minister of Health to interact with the BioNtech officials where they showcased their on-going vaccine development projects at the State House.
“As a result of their fruitful engagements. BioNtech expressed its immediate readiness to establish research partnership with Nigeria, in the area of strengthening local vaccine manufacturing in the country and the entire continent.
“Thus, the country leveraged on the existing Mega Research funded vaccine development consortium to gain the confidence of BioNtech in establishing a hub for mRNA vaccine manufacture in Nigeria.