A consortium of Nigerian researchers engaged in the Vaccine Development Mega Research Project at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto (UDUS), sponsored by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has presented the COVID-19 DNA Vaccine Candidate(SJN3T CorVac) for preclinical trials in the country. .
According to the academics, despite the numerous challenges faced during the procurement of some of the consumables, equipment, and reagents from overseas, the vaccine was made ready within 11 months of the receipt of the first tranche of the TETFund grant.
This was revealed at the symbolic handover of the vaccine candidate in UDUS, Sokoto, for trial by the academics.
Vice Chancellor of Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, Prof. Lawal Suleman Bilbis,speaking at the “Presentation of Milestone on the TETFund-sponsored Vaccine Development Mega Research Project,” said the handing over of a vaccine candidate for trials goes a long way in projecting the ability of indigenous scientists to solve the nation’s problems while relying on home-grown resources and facilities.
The Vice Chancellor 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,” while reiterating that the nation is very close to reaping the benefits of the investment and confidence bestowed upon home grown scientists.
Prof. Bilbis while appreciating the Management of TETFund for providing the funds, noted that with the continued support of the Fund, researchers in the 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 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 added.
Speaking at the ceremony, the Executive Secretary of TETFund, Arc. Sonny S. T. Echono, lauded the efforts and output by the University in terms of Research and Development, adding that the institution has succeeded in accessing over 35 NRF grants over the years, placing it among the best performing Beneficiary Institutions in accessing the National Research Fund (NRF) while appealing to Nigerian researchers not to relent on the principalgoal of delivering a homemade Covid-19 vaccine.
The TETFund boss also declared that the mega research project is one out of four projects supported by the fund at a total sum of N1,250,000,000, the aim of which 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.”
Arch. Echono pointed out that TETFund has been making concentrated efforts at identifyingmore innovative ways of utilizing government and donor funding in research programmesand projects for national development.
“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.
Arc. Sonny Echono while congratulating the team of researchers on behalf of the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu and the TETFund NRF programme revealed that the research consortium consists of the National Veterinary Research Institute (NDRI), UDUS; University of Jos (UNIJOS) and the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD).
He lauded the progress of the researchers, stating that they have displayed competence, and professionalism for these great feat in vaccine production within a time limit thereby making the country proud.
On the progress made by the research group, Echono hinted that “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,” he said.
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