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Meet the 5 researchers on Nigeria’s vaccine development mission

After a year that saw a rise in echoes for a shift from being consumer of scientific innovations to producing, Nigeria finally got its act together on funding the research and development of home-grown coronavirus vaccines.

The Health Sector Research and Development Intervention Scheme was brought to life as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) provided N253.4 million grant to five Nigerian researchers.

The recipients, including professors and doctors, were drawn from different universities following experts’ review of 68 proposals pooled from 286 submissions.

The facility, part of the government response to the pandemic, places the mission to strengthen Nigeria’s capacity for biopharmaceutical on Professor Olufemi Dokun-Babalola, Professor Okoli Ikechukwu, Dr. John Ogedengbe, Dr. Garba Uba, and Dr. O’tega Ejofodomi.

Though the CBN did not specify what each of them will be focusing on, but they are expected to come up with vaccines for COVID-19 and drugs against some other communicable and non-communicable diseases burdening Nigerians.

Through the HSRDIS, the CBN says it has spent N85.89 billion on 82 projects across the country including 26 pharmaceutical and 56 medical projects.

Professor Olufemi Dokun-Babalola

Born in the UK in 1957, Dokun-Babalola, a professor of ophthalmology was trained at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, and the University of London.

He specialised in the study of medical conditions relating to the eye, Ophthalmology, in 1988, after becoming a fellow of the post-graduate medical college of Nigeria and a fellow of the West African College of Surgeons.

He is one of the three eye surgeons at Rachel Eye Centre, a subsidiary of Rachel Ventures, holding a public private partnership with Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Abuja.

He serves as the founding dean of Clinical Sciences, College of Health Sciences, Bingham University, Karu. The private university was established in 2005 by the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA).

Dokun-Babalola currently leads the Guild Medical Director, a body of private medical practitioners that has been engaged by the Federal Ministry of Health to implement the National Emergency Medical System and Emergency Ambulance Scheme (NEMSAS) approve in 2020.

Professor Ikechukwu Okoli

From an elementary education that kicked off in Enugu, Okoli’s career has crisscrossed three postdoctoral research fellowships in the UK and US, his LinkedIn profiles show.

The associate professor of Microbiology, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, has multiple research publications, from study of antimicrobial susceptibility of bacteria in blood and urine samples of infected outpatients to a study of prevalence of blood fluke in the urine of community primary school pupils in Enugu.

Before the CBN grant was award, he was a recipient of the UK Commonwealth Scholarship Commission for a postdoctoral research between 2011 and 2012 and another sponsorship by the International Society for Infectious Diseases (ISID).

Okoli has also had a sting with gene sequencing of plants using the rRNA technology adopted by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the US pharmaceutical leading global breakthrough in vaccine development.

He currently heads the Biosciences Research Support Foundation, non-profit organisation focused on raising support for Nigerian scientists working in the fields of biological, medical and biomedical sciences.

Dr. John Ogedengbe

He is a senior lecturer at the University of Abuja who has spent 13 years training medical students in human physiology.

He holds an MSc and PhD in Human Physiology from the Ahmadu Bello University and served as a medical officer at a specialist hospital in Sokoto.

Ogedengbe is a co-author of a research work on the changes in disease burden from communicable diseases to chronic non-communicable diseases published in 2014, ‘Nigerian Population Research on Environment, Gene and Health (NIPREGH).

In 2019, he was listed in the Asian Journal of Medical Research as a peer reviewer for a work on ‘Haematological and Biochemical Changes Caused by Antidepressants Amitriptyline Induced Cardiac Toxicity in Male Rats’.

Dr. O’tega Ejofodomi

Foreign trained, O’tega Ejofodomi in 2004 acquired a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Howard University, a private institution in Washington DC, US.

She also acquired a Master of Science in the same course from the same university in 2006, and obtained a Doctor of Science in 2012 from George Washington University.

She lectured at the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun, Delta State, between 2012 and 2015, and co-authored a research published on the European Journal of Engineering Research and Science on ‘Crude Oil Spill Detection Using Robotics Systems’.

She is the co-founder of Racett Nigeria Limited, a company that specialises in computer programming, automation, internet of things, competency development, cloud solutions, and artificial intelligence.

Ejofodomi is a COREN Registered Engineer, and a member of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE).

She is also among the FUPRE team that won an award of N40.4 million by the CBN to manufacture an innovative Medical device known as MEDLINK, a device that can measure blood pressure, blood glucose, pulse, heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, body temperature, and respiratory data among others.

Dr. Garba Uba

Currently a lecturer at the Department of Science Laboratory and Technology, College of Science and Technology, Jigawa State. Garba Uba holds a MSc degree in Biochemistry from Bayero University, Kano.

His doctorate degree in Environmental Biotechnology is still in the works yard according to his LinkedIn profile, but has published about 20 research works including co-authored ‘Predictive Mathematical Modelling of the Total Number of COVID-19 Cases for Brazil,’ in 2020.

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