Dr. Simon Agwale is the founder and CEO of Innovative Biotech Ltd, Keffi, Nasarawa state, and Innovative Biotech, USA Inc. A virologist/vaccinologist, he was also the chair and West Africa’s representative on HIV/AIDs for Developing Countries Coordinating Committee (DCCC) at European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Programme. In this interview with Augustine Aminu in Abuja, he throws more light on the question of the efficacy of herbal medicines and other health care issues in Nigeria.
What’s the mandate of Innovative Biotech Limited?
It is a research and development centre. It treats patients of chronic infections, both communicable and non-communicable. It also offers students’ research programmes. We started this because a majority of Nigerian universities have no up-to-date research infrastructure. Undergraduates, postgraduates and health researchers also use our institute for researches. On our part, we aid the publications of their findings in international journals. The centre also offers the second opinion programme, by confirming some diagnoses, which in some cases are faulty. If the cases are those we can handle, we do that; if it is not, we refer them to our partners overseas for the best health care. We also do large-scale vaccination.
In what area have you recorded a breakthrough?
Our breakthroughs in hepatitis, diabetes and HIV are unequalled. Our revolutionary products bring down the viral load of HIV to undetectable level within three months. These are all natural and well-researched products and have no side effects. Our products are certified by top level institutions around the world. For diabetes, we use mineral supplements to bring down the sugar level to normalcy within two weeks. We have other landmark health products to address Nigeria’s peculiar health needs. Our research findings are published in top rated scientific journals.
Talking about of HIV/AIDs, are your products different from anti-retroviral drugs?
The unique thing about HIV is the fact that it is only disease on earth where victims wait until their condition becomes worse before accessing treatment. Anti- retroviral drugs are delicate: toxicity and drug resistance. The time a patient needs the drugs is moderated. If it commences early, the combinations will be exhausted. When the person needs it most, he could have developed resistance to the drugs. That is why it is waited for the CD4 to drop before the treatment begins. Our treatment brings the viral loads to an undetectable level within three months. The trial has been done in Nigeria with support from the Nasarawa state government. This creates a real hope for HIV patients that don’t need anti-retroviral therapy. There were also clinical trials in Ghana and Kenya. The outcome was published in an international journal.
HIV strains differ according to locations. How efficacious are your products in Nigeria?
They are natural products. With the advent of nano technology, we have been able to break Silver, one of our products, into nano forms. Anything, whether bacteria, viruses, parasites, name them, that comes in contact with it dies in vitro within six minutes. Silver is not like antibiotics that is lock and key. It has a broad-range: it resonates. It has the same wave length with what we call the ultra-violet light. Silver works like the bulb you switch on to kill pathogens. It has a different mode of action; that is why it has broad-range anti-microbial properties.
You are a vaccinologist and virologist by training, how come you delve into natural medical products?
I worked in Nigeria and saw many helpless conditions. We have limited expertise to address the matters. This prompted some of us to go into more researches. That is where the clinical component trials come in. With our partners, we take these ingredients and formulate them based on daily requirements and come up with products that will change people’s lives.
What challenges do you face?
Development banks like NEXIM and the Bank of Industry stipulate conditions similar to conventional banks. They ought to be development banks where ideologies are collated for funding. But they insist on collaterals before funds are accessed. How many people have houses in Abuja?
As a stakeholder on the vaccine for HIV/AIDS, how soon can the vaccines be produced?
We are working on a potential cure for HIV/AIDS using stem cells. There is a certain percentage of the Caucasians that are resistant to HIV. If their blood is infected with the virus, it will be uninfected. Researches went on and it was discovered they have deletion in one of their cells which we call ‘the CCR5 co-receptor’that HIV binds to. As such, HIV does not see the cell to enter CD4. The confirmed cure now is ‘the Berlin patient’. In Berlin, a doctor isolated one of the Caucasians with the resistant genes, and performed a bone-marrow transfer. It is about the fourth year of this treatment and the person remains negative. We try to see how we can make this treatment universal. To do a bone-marrow transfer, you have to do some compatibility tests. But with the stem, we have identified three people that have this resistant gene and we try to transform stem cells with these resistant genes to see whether we get the same result. For now, we continue to do research and development with what we have on ground to see how best we can manage patients. The issue is getting the viral load undetectable and the CD4 going up.
Comment on local herbs and those produced in the US
Those in the US were well researched and properly formulated. You know what you are taking. But here, herbs are not well researched. Some of them are toxic. We don’t know the side effects. The efficacy of those herbal products must be established. I don’t say they don’t work, but the practitioners have to work with scientists to bring a drug to the market.
Does Nigerian government assist you?
No. In the US, researches are funded by the government. It is risky because the result is uncertain. Even big companies in the US get grants to fund researches. There is no nation on earth that grows without investment in research and development. We have plants throughout Nigeria that can perform wonders. It is only research and development that their potentialities can be harnessed and our economy diversified.
Have you returned to settle in Nigeria?
Some researches can’t take place in Nigeria. An example is the stem cell. It requires twenty-four hour’s light. There should be companies to provide laboratory needs instantly. You can’t do tissue culturing procedure in Nigeria. For now, we research and develop in the US and do the implementation here. My research requires complementation and they are not here. There is no single company in Nigeria that makes media for tissue culture.
Can you briefly rate herbal medicine practice in Nigeria.
The government should strengthen our universities. If there are good universities doing high-quality research, biotech companies, like ours, should be involved in the translational aspect of it. In the US, basic work is done in universities. Companies make their money from their products. They give funds to universities to embark on basic researches. Universities patent those inventions, then companies license the technology from universities. Some years ago, New York State University made at least 200 million dollars only from royalties they got from
inventions from lecturers. There should be structures where inventions are protected. There must be offices of technology transfer in universities so that when lecturers and students develop products, it goes through that office patented and protected. With that, people will research. A big case with herbalists is that they don’t want people to know the components of their products. When I was at NIPRID, we found many of these herbal products packed with bacteria. Take it to any lab and you will be amazed. If you see a typical setup where drugs are developed, you can’t eat anything in this country. Herbalists should know that some of these things are not hidden. Not everything can be patented. Only novel things are worth patenting. If they have anything that is revolutionary, let them go to NIPRID and other agencies to get help.