Prof Sabinus Ofoefule, a lecturer at the University of Nigeria Nsukka is undoubtedly an icon of excellence in the field of pharmacy with a specialty in Pharmaceutical Technology and Industrial Pharmacy whose name rings a bell over Nigeria and beyond. Pharmapproach was opportune to have a time with him with regards to the Nigerian drug industries.
Good morning sir and thanks for giving us the opportunity to interact with you as regards pharmapproach and our local pharmaceutical industries. May we meet you sir?
As you well know, my name is Sabinus Ifeanyi Ofoefule, a Professor of Pharmaceutical Technology and Industrial Pharmacy of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Please may we know a bit more about your early life and educational background?
Well, I came from a reasonable educational background and my father is a retired teacher. I went through many primary schools each time my father was transferred. I can’t recall all the schools but I can recall two of the major schools I attended last. One was central school Ezeachi, and then Community Primary School Etam Okpuitumo in former Ezikwo Local Government now in Ebonyi state. My secondary school was in St Augustine’s Grammar School in Imo State. I was admitted here in UNN in 1983 to study pharmacy and I graduated in 1988. I got into lecturing in 1993 and rose to the rank of a professor in 2003. I was Dean of two pharmacy schools in Nigeria at different periods. Precisely, I was the dean of the faculty of pharmaceutical sciences, UNN, 2007-2010, and Dean of faculty of pharmaceutical sciences Uyo, Akwa ibom State, 2011-2012. I am currently the Head of Department of Pharmaceutical Technology and Industrial Pharmacy, UNN, Chairman students affairs and disciplinary board, UNN, and Coordinator of drug delivery and nanotechnology research unit, UNN.
How has pharmacy practice being in the area of the pharmaceutical technology and the industry in Nigeria?
I think our Local Pharmaceutical Industries have done fairly. The problem now is that there is no synergy between the academia and the pharmaceutical industry. The reason is obvious, majority of our people want immediate returns, no person wants long term investments including Pharmacists. But I must tell you that among pharmacy schools in Nigeria, we are still the best in terms of Pharmaceutical Technology and Industrial Pharmacy practice.
How have you been able to link the results you have in your research with the local industries?
It also involves people like you when you eventually graduate to call on us to collaborate with you to solve industrial problems. One of the reasons why there is no link with the academia and the local pharmaceutical industries is because many of the research results today are without practical relevance. Secondly, if the people who are supposed to be in the academia are there, the issue of synergy would have long begun. But despite these challenges, there is still some link in the sense that some local industries still bring some technical problems for us to solve for them. It may interest you to know that I have written feasibility studies for companies and have drafted formulas for formulation of drugs for others. I am also a federal government licensed Analyst.
Considering the vast knowledge you have please tell us more about our local pharmaceutical industries?
We have quit a number of local industries that are doing well, like Juhel, Emzor, AC drugs, and others. Because of the capital intensive nature of establishing an industry, many local industries still go into importation of drugs. But Despite the intensive nature, people are going into manufacturing now. Government policies are not helping matters. If the government could encourage the indigenous companies and genuine research, the local industries would go very far. The local pharmaceutical industries still import raw materials which we can successfully produce here in our country like starch and other excipients used in production. Do we have the man power, yes, we do. Also the remuneration is not encouraging people to go into the industry. If these challenges are addressed, the local industries would go very far. If the Indians could develop, we can develop also. Some local industrialists start up from manufacturing hygienic products like dettol, hydrogen peroxide, GV, e.t.c.
Sir, please explain more on the relevance of academic pharmacy to the industry?
In school, we expose you to the actual manufacturing process. When you go to our technology laboratory, you will see the layout of the various equipments. The equipments and processes of manufacture are essentially the same with what you can see. The difference is the complex equipment that they may use to produce there drug products. Once you have these basics, you should be able to fit into the local industries easily. Most local industries are not willing to part with money to get the research institutes to solve their challenges. Most times they will prefer to pay foreign personnel to come and help them solve their challenges rather than pay the local researchers. Unfortunately, some of the foreign personnel are just technicians that can not really match the local researchers.
What is you view about the local drugs manufactured in Nigeria?
Well, most of the drugs manufactured in Nigeria are even more genuine than the imported drugs because the regulatory bodies maintain strict surveillance over the drugs manufactured here in Nigeria. However, in every twelve, there must be a Judas. Drugs formulated as capsules are easily subject to abuse. But the local pharmaceutical manufacturing companies are doing very well in their products. Also, due to lack of consistency with monitoring of Good Manufacturing Practices by NAFDAC, when people get their NAFDAC-approved number, with time, they go into adulterating their products. This is due to lack of honesty on the part of some of the producers in Nigeria. If the regulatory agencies continue with ensuring Good Manufacturing Practices in the local industries, the local industries will do better with producing quality products.
What do you know are the current challenges facing the local industries manufacturing there products in Nigeria?
Government policies are not favoring the local industries. For example, there are so much inappropriate taxations by federal, state, and local government agencies. Secondly, this era of ICT has also made young people to live the industry for places they can get quick money. There is also a problem with insecurity as some pharmacists have been killed because people feel they have much money. But more importantly, if the government would make the investment climate conducive, the local industries would flourish.
How do you think that these local companies can improve their products’ quality, availability and acceptance?
Number one problem local industries have is poor packaging. For some of the new local companies, their packaging is nothing to write home about. Before you buy a product, the packaging alone will give you an idea of the quality. I have had occasions to point out some. For example you don’t make paracetamol syrup for children and the packaging will be so dull and unattractive. You have to get people that can design and give good colour combinations.
Also, they should step up on the issue of advert because you cannot rule out the power of advert on product marketing because it means much to the consumers. Again like I said earlier, they on their own may not be able to effect certain changes. If raw materials are still being imported, you don’t expect them to import products at high price and sell at lower prices. If the government could restrict importation of some of basic medicines like paracetamol, metronidazole, aspirin, cotrimoxazole, e.t.c why allowing importation of other drugs like the oncology and other high tech drugs, this will help the local industries expand. Government should also do something about selling of drugs in open markets because that is where drug smugglers go to sell their products. When you and I can not buy drugs from any other place except from a registered pharmacy, it will become easy to control the drug distribution chain, and the regulatory agency will be able to know what came into the country, where it got to and the quality and when anything go bad they will be able to trace it and recall the product. For now, such is not obtainable in the nation.
Could you tell us how the pharmaceutical companies could partner with you to achieve better pharmaceutical products?
One of my class mates who happen to be the production manager of one of the pharmaceutical companies came to me to help him solve a problem that erupted during the production of the company’s paracetamol that suddenly became dark in colour after quarantine. I told him to make arrangement for me to come to the company and see the product and the machine and I will be able to decipher what went wrong. I developed a stable formulation of liquid oral rehydration therapy for a local manufacturer. Like I said earlier, I am a Federal government approved Analyst. I am also involved with writing feasibility studies for pharmaceutical companies. These are areas our local companies can partner with me.
Can we know your believe and philosophy of life?
My approach to life is whatsoever you are doing in life, put it at the back of your mind that there is the principle of sowing and reaping, it does not fail. That has been my guiding principle and that is why you can never see me being hash to students unnecessarily. I maintain and live with an open door policy. It may interest you to note that I have trained six graduates of which none of them is my child. It is a privilege, not a right, to come from an environment where you receive educational training.
What advice do you have for the upcoming pharmacists and those still in the process of becoming one?
Firstly, I congratulate you people for taking up interest in the industrial pharmacy. Many persons are going out of the industrial pharmacy practice due to the current shift to Pharm. D. This has made other disciplines like biochemistry and microbiology to take up the positions of pharmacists in our local pharmaceutical industries. So I will advice the young ones to show interest in the industry. Eventually, the richest people in the profession are still those that own the industries. Follow your passion and start early rather than pursuing immediate gains.
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