Sixteen years after the Federal Government and May & Baker Nigeria Plc incorporated Biovaccines Nigeria Limited as the special-purpose vehicle to revive vaccine production locally, it has yet to deliver on its mandate. YUSUFF MOSHOOD reports
Biovaccines Nigeria Limited was incorporated in 2005 as a special firm to revive vaccine production activity in Nigeria, being a joint venture between the Federal Government and May & Baker Nigeria Plc.
While May & Baker owns 51 percent of the company, the Federal Government owns the remaining 49 percent of its shareholding.
The expectation when BVNL was established in 2005 was that it would leverage on the strength of May & Baker– its parent company and Nigeria’s first pharmaceutical firm –to end the long wait for locally-manufactured vaccines.
“The objective of Biovaccines Nigeria Limited is to produce safe and affordable human vaccines for Nigeria and reverse the situation of high mortality from immunisable diseases. It also plans to create a regional centre for vaccine production in West Africa and position Nigeria as a global player in the vaccine business,” its corporate bio states.
However, 16 years after, BVNL is yet to deliver on its grand objective.
What went wrong
According to PUNCH HealthWise findings, the 2005 joint venture agreement between the FG and May & Baker concerning BVNL’s operations broke down and was only revived in 2017 when a new Memorandum of Understanding vetted by the Federal Executive Council was signed.
The signing of the MoU in 2017 also led to the inauguration of the Board of Directors for BVNL. It was a seven-member board, with three members from the government, while the other four members who will run the company are designates of May & Baker.
According to the MoU, Biovaccines Nigeria Limited is mandated to build local capacity in vaccine manufacturing, develop a research and development centre for vaccines and roll out the first locally produced vaccines by 2019.
The immediate focus was the production of yellow fever, tetanus and hepatitis B vaccines, all of which have remained a pipe-dream so far.
The company is also expected to revive the moribund Federal Vaccine Production Laboratory in Yaba, Lagos, which it acquired under the agreement.It’s been four years since the MoU was signed, yet there is no locally-made vaccine, either by the BVNL or any local entity for that matter.
Visit to Biovaccines Nigeria Limited
A visit to BVNL facility in Yaba, Lagos, indicated that work was ongoing there.However, a request by our correspondent to be taken on a tour of the facility was turned down.
The Chief Operating Officer of the company, Mr. Everest Okeakpu, told our correspondent to come with a formal letter of request, stating the objectives of the visit before an appointment could be fixed.
Nigeria’s frustrating history of vaccine production
It could be recalled that Nigeria was producing vaccines for smallpox, yellow fever and some anti-rabies between 1940 and 1991 and had even exported some vaccines to some African countries.
Vaccine production, however, stopped in 1991 at the Federal Vaccine Production Laboratory in Yaba, with the Federal Government stating that it would upgrade the facility. Since then, there has not been human vaccine manufacturing in Nigeria.
Nigeria, therefore, spends billions of naira annually to import vaccines, even though the Global Vaccine Initiative subsidises the cost heavily.
BVNL’s first set of vaccines expected in four years
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, BVNL’s COO, Okeakpu, said that Biovaccines Nigeria Limited was on track to deliver on its mandate despite its numerous challenges, noting that the company should be able to manufacture its first set of vaccines in the next four years.
“It usually takes about three to four years to go through facility construction and equipment procurement; facility and equipment installation, commissioning and qualification; process optimisation and validation; facility certification; process validation and product registration.
“The Biovaccines Nigeria Limited Joint Venture Agreement was ratified by the Federal Executive Council of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration at its June 8, 2017, meeting.
“The BVNL board swiftly set to work after re-inauguration in January 2018 with the first task of approving the strategic business plan that had been developed following very extensive feasibility studies.
“We commenced interactions with several international potential technology transfer partners and also issued two Request for Proposals,” Okeakpu said.
Continuing, the COO said, “The first Request for Proposals was for vaccines manufacturing technology from vaccines manufacturers for innovative technologies to manufacture Nigeria’s vaccines of interest — BCG vaccine, inactivated polio vaccine (IPV), Human Papillomavirus Vaccine (HPV), yellow fever vaccine (YFV), Hepatitis B vaccine (HBV), and Measles-Rubella Vaccine (MRV).
“Others are Pentavalent Vaccine (Diphtheria, Tetanus, Whole-Cell Pertussis, Hepatitis B, Hib), Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV), Tetanus Reduced Diphtheria (Td), Meningococcal Conjugate Vaccine (MCV) and Rotavirus Vaccine (RVV).
“Evaluation of the received proposals have since been concluded and technology partners shortlisted and selected.
“Request for Proposals two, which was for architectural, structural, conceptual basic and detailed engineering services was also launched shortly afterward.
“The Biovaccines Nigeria Limited facility will be compliant with the most stringent regulatory requirements, enable ease of future expansion, as well as ensure sustainability from a market competitiveness perspective.”
Okeakpu said that it became necessary to revise the BVNL strategic business plan earlier approved by the board when, on June 7, 2018, Gavi Board approved exceptional support for Nigeria up till 2028.
“Nigeria was due for transition out of Gavi support in 2021, and the BVNL strategic business plan was premised on this.However, following the revised GAVI transition plan (2018-2028) for Nigeria, the board approached the government for the details of the plan and has promptly revised the BVNL business plan to align with the new projection.
“Indeed, the implementation of the new plan is well underway. Talks have advanced and MoUs for Tech Transfer are already in place. We are currently engaging other strategic partners for collaboration and support.”
BVNL’s Achilles’ heel
Okeakpu also stated that the company has recently approved a company to undertake the architectural, structural, conceptual basic and detailed engineering design study of the Biovaccines Nigeria Limited Greenfield Integrated Biotech Park.
“Procurement for a suitably qualified local environmental consulting firm has also been concluded and the Environmental Impact Assessment study is currently ongoing at the 15.3-hectare piece of property procured for this purpose