‘Fyodor’s Urine Test Will Guarantee Targeted Treatment Of Malaria’

Dr. Eddy Agbo is a U.S.-based Nigerian. A biotechnologist and the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Fyodor Biotechnologies Corporation, Baltimore, Maryland and Fyodor Biotechnologies (Nigeria) Ltd., he was recently in Nigeria to finalise plans to introduce urine-based malaria test that will make malaria diagnosis easier, faster and cheaper. He speaks on the test, saying it will positively impact the way malaria is diagnosed and treated globally. What are you doing in U.S. and why are you in Nigeria now?

We have a biotechnology company that is working to develop a urine-based test for the diagnosis of clinical malaria in persons with fever. We also have a unique biotechnology to produce artemisinin in yeast rather than as a plant extract, as is currently the case. As you know, artemisinin is the treatment of choice for malaria and our biotech approach will make the drug more available and affordable. The test can be performed at any hospital, clinic, patent medicine store or at home, to confirm whether a fever is due to malaria or not, and help guide malaria management. The unique thing about the test is that anyone anywhere can perform it. It does not require special training, instrumentation or technical expertise. As you know, many cases of fever are not due to malaria. So, the use of this test will remove the guesswork of treating any fever as if due to malaria. In this way, people do not have to take medicine for malaria if they do not have malaria. This will reduce self-medication among Nigerians, minimise the development of drug resistance, ensure greater effectiveness of anti-malarial drugs and reduce unnecessary treatment costs.

How long have you been working on developing this product?

We licensed the urine malaria test technology (with exclusive global rights) from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore Maryland in 2008. We have already developed the prototype device for this test, and gone a long way towards making it very robust and accurate. Our next goal is to complete the validation of the prototype in collaboration with the U.S. Army this year and to complete full clinical validation and secure regulatory clearance in 2011. The test is expected to be available in Nigeria in late 2011.

What efforts have you made to reach out to the government?

Fyodor is interested in partnering with government through a unique public-private partnership. We are in contact with the Federal and Enugu State governments, both of which are very interested and supportive of this project. We are striving to identify additional opportunities to partner with various agencies of government, as we believe that these products are very important for the people of Nigeria. We aim to ultimately manufacture these products here in Nigeria.

Looking at the challenges in the country especially in the area of power supply, do you think the project will succeed here?

We are aware of the resource challenges including regular power and water supplies. We are factoring these needs into our manufacturing facility design, which is being designed to be self-sustaining. We also need to train our people here to be able to develop and manufacture the urine test, and to operate the facility.

What about raw materials for product, do you think you can import them and still succeed in the Nigerian market?

We have done some cost estimates on the required materials and have started looking at final product cost. Many of the materials we need will be imported but the good thing is that the component materials are standard and do not need to be customised. We have also taken into account other cost components such as assembly, equipment, quality assurance and personnel.

Looking at the cost of the product at the end, do you think an average Nigerian will be able to afford it considering the level of poverty in the country?

The goal of developing both products is to make them available and affordable especially to persons living in the villages and remote areas. The test does not require electricity, refrigeration or any equipment. It is just a paper strip that you dip in urine and wait for 10-15 minutes, after which one or two lines will appear. Fyodor’s urine test will allow for targeted treatment and Nigerians will not need to take or pay for medicines they do not need.

I think that any product that is not affordable to most of the people who need it will not survive. The assurance we are giving is that this test will be less expensive than what we have now.

Apart from Nigeria, are you planning to take it to other African countries where malaria is a common sickness?

Because of our population, we constitute 25 per cent of all malaria cases in Africa. So, Nigeria is central for effective global malaria control. Yes, the test can be used in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where the same strain of Plasmodium parasite causes most of the malaria in Nigeria. The next generation of the urine malaria test is scheduled to be delivered in 2012, and will be suitable for countries in other malaria endemic areas, including Asia.

You have lived in the United States for so long, what has been your experience in the area of service delivery since you arrived the Nigeria?

No two countries are the same. There are challenges in Nigeria as well as in the U.S. Our greatest challenge in Nigeria will be operational. How do we set up the manufacturing facility and ensure constant power and water supply. We are also looking at engaging with NAFDAC on the regulatory front. Our goal is to make these products and deliver them with the same quality and standard as in the U.S. We will ensure that we secure all necessary approvals. In addition to NAFDAC approval, the facility that will be in Nigeria will also be U.S. FDA-approved and WHO certified.

When will the product be in the market?

Fyodor is headquartered in Baltimore Maryland, U.S and has received extensive support from the State of Maryland to develop this urine test. Fyodor Biotechnologies (Nigeria) Ltd is the Nigerian subsidiary where manufacturing operations will take place. We are working with the U.S Army and Johns Hopkins University to complete the final validation of the test and will be ready to market in 2011. And at that point, Nigerians will have it in their cupboards.

What pushed you into this discovery?

I trained as a veterinarian at the University of Ibadan and had postgraduate training in Biotechnology and Molecular Genetics at Wageningen and Utrecht Universities, both in Holland. After many years in Europe and America, I reached a point in my career and knew there was something more I could do for humanity. I started to look beyond myself, and the immediate people around me. My interest started to focus around how I could apply the experience I gained in biotechnology to address specific issues affecting humanity, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where significant biomedical needs exist. That is how I came about starting this company. For me, it is the next phase in my life trying to impact the society that has impacted me in substantial ways since childhood.

So, you see the test as a breakthrough and fulfillment of a dream?

It is a breakthrough and fulfillment of a dream. The urine malaria test will address a compelling problem that affects millions of Nigerians and others worldwide in a way that no other product can address. In this sense, it is an important breakthrough being driven by Nigerians and Americans. We believe these products will positively impact the way malaria is diagnosed and treated globally. It is a vision that we are going to launch from Nigeria and expand to the rest of the world.



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