Benson Idahosa University (BIU), Benin, Edo State, has become the first university in Africa to be accepted as a member of the prestigious National Academy of Inventors (NAI) which comprises of over 60 other universities worldwide.
The feat was achieved on account of a drug, Edotide, invented by the former Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the university (now Acting VC), Prof. Ernest Izevbigie, for the prevention and management of cancer, prostate enlargement and diabetes. Besides, Prof. Izevbigie has also been recognized by the NAI as one of the top inventors among 101 other Fellows globally. In this interview, he speaks on the drug, Edotide, and what makes it different.
I have a PhD in the area of my research – Cell Biology and Biochemistry. I received my doctorate degree in 1996, at Michigan State University, United States. After completing that, I went to the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland also in U.S., to do a post- doctorate in Cancer Biology.
I concluded that in 1999, three years after my doctorate before launching my research career at Jackson State University.
I started in 1999 and I rose to the rank of a full professor in 2008/2009. So, I remained a full professor of Biology and Bio-chemistry of Jackson State University.
While I was there, I had the responsibility of mentoring students both in Biology and Chemistry, Masters and PhD students. My publications are in the area of Cell Biology, Bio-chemistry and Pharmacognosy.
That is my education and that is my research training and the degree is one thing; your research area is another. There are two components that really define your area of specialization: getting a degree and being able to utilize the skill to solve problem in that area.
Those are the two things that will redefine you.
WHY EDOTIDE IS DIFFERENT
Recently, we have seen people who claimed to have invented drugs that could cure HIV/AIDS and their claims were repudiated.
What makes your drug, Edotide, different from others in the management of cancer, prostate enlargement and diabetes? Very good question! In our case, we didn’t have internal problems. We followed the due process that we have.
The former vice-chancellor and the entire management were on board. What we said had been published, unlike what I read in Tell magazine. The case they had in UNIBEN (University of Benin) was in infancy stage from my understanding. This is not in infancy stage.
Our findings have been published in prestigious medical journals – Experimental Biology in Medicine, one of the oldest you can find in the business established in 1903, Peer Review Journal, Cell and our findings have been corroborated by other scientists.
It’s established in the literature. To check that, you do a Google search on Vernonia Amgydalina and cancer, you will see the information that you could have. Again, do a Google search on my name and cancer; my contribution in the field of Cancer Biology using, or establishing the anti-neoplastic activity or anti-cancer property, is well documented.
So, this is not a matter of a claim, it’s a scientific evidence that we have. I challenge anybody to read the literature and see what is already out there. So, it’s different, it’s not a claim. In addition, there are publications in order to be able to repeat our work; that is what makes science interesting.
It led to publications and a lot of things. We have secured funding to do that work and other studies. Securing funding in the U.S. and most parts of the world is a very complex process.
There is a review process, your peers, people who are knowledgeable in the art, those who would review your proposal, what you are going to do, is it doable to give you money? and all. So, there has to be some weight and credibility in terms of securing this funding. Our findings were deemed novel. That is the reason we were issued patent for novelty.
We didn’t stop there because patent issuance is one thing. You didn’t just have the patent on the wall. The next step was translation. These findings that we made in the laboratory, how can we translate them to societal values? Societal value means taking the benefit, and taking it in a vehicle out of the laboratory to the patent bedside.
To do that, we came up with a composition, a formulation of the botanical extract, using some active ingredient components to come up with the standardized formulation. Then with those formulations, we now encapsulated into 600mg, 700mg, depending on the use.
Then we made that commercially available in the United States. A few years later, because Nigerians were buying from the U.S. (and they can be very, very expensive), they said the only thing we could do to have that in Nigeria is to make application to NAFDAC (National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control). We secured another patent in Nigeria.
We registered the product with Federal Trade and Commerce. I am still talking about why Edotide is clearly different from others.
After under-going all the processes stipulated by NAFDAC, we were approved before we were able to bring it into Nigeria and since then we’ve had medical directors who have worked with us with their patients with records on files, the amazing results that have been recorded. At the due time, some of them will come and vouch for Edotide.
So, we have testimonies, compelling testimonies. With that, I have outlined many reasons we think it’s different and more recently, our work was recognized by the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), mandated by the Congress of the United States and acknowledged to drive innovation in technology from the university to commercialize new idea, new products coming out of the universities and take them into the market.
In recognition of that, in 2012, they recognized people who have been issued United States patent.
All over the world, there are some people who live in China, they have patent in the United States and so on and so forth. So, they recognize people who’ve been able to take their patent, translate it into societal value and a selection committee was put in place to make that selection.
Let me quote from that committee. They said: “a top scientist and innovator who had demonstrated a highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding invention that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development and welfare of society.”
This was one of the criteria used to select people. So, a committee of outstanding men and women judged my humble self, by the special grace of God, to be among this group of persons.
At the end, 101 Fellows were selected. In that 101, let me say a lot of Nigerians may recall that few years ago, during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure that a gentleman called Dr. Robert Gallow visited Nigeria, Abuja.
I think they have this partnership to establish Institute of Human Virology somewhere in Abuja. Robert Gallow is the co-discoverer of HIV and that HIV causes AIDS and furthermore, he developed the blood test used today in the diagnosis of HIV/AIDS. So, in other words, without this gentleman, the HIV test would not be possible.
That is significant and also among this group, are eight Nobel Laureates, people who have won Noble prizes in their respective fields. Also, among these 101 persons, is Sir Roy Kean. Roy Kean is the British surgeon who performed the first world liver transplant and kidney Transplantation.
He is the pioneer in Organ Transplantation and also Roger Comberg, who won Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008 with his work, “The Expression of DNA into RNA” and the processes involved. He is from Stanford University in California.
We have people also recognized from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University among others.
So, from the patent, from the recognition, from the collaboration with other scientists, from the fact that Edotide is commercially available in the U.S. and Nigeria by way of NAFDAC approval, from testimonies of physicians and patients, you will agree with me that Edotide is different from other claims. Let me also add that this is not a cure.
It is approved as Nutri-c-cal and dietary supplement by NAFDAC because it’s from a vegetable that we eat in Nigeria and the way it’s made now. In the future it can be made into a pharmaceutical whereby we fix a component, maybe change the structure, modify it or whatever.
But what we are concerned with now is helping people in the management of neoplastic diseases such as cancer of the breast and cancer of the prostate in the prevention and management of the type of cancer and also diabetes. Let me just add that from my angle, I don’t think if there is anything in the market now that is a cure for anything.
When you take diabetes for example, it is a metabolic disease. If you eat and your body has a compromised ability to metabolize sugar properly, one is going to have elevated blood sugar.
So, you need medicine to constantly bring it to normal level. If you discontinue taking this medicine, what happens, the sugar goes back again, the same thing with hypertension under those conditions, I don’t know if you can really call it cure. It seems to me that it should be management. Besides the recognition by National Academy of Scientists on February 28, the 113th United States Congress also recognized all the 101 persons.
Besides, Benson Idahosa University now has been accepted as a member of the NAI, and that makes BIU the first international affiliate in Africa ever to be a member of that prestigious organization.
It’s not just only the grant in right to be able to say, ‘I belong in the league of the big universities’ because in NAI, you have more than 60 universities now that are members.
That means we have the opportunity to now interact, form partnership with them, Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), share resources, exchange programme, our children get to go and use their state-of-the-art laboratories and vice versa, they come here.
HOW WE CAME ABOUT THE NAME EDOTIDE
Why is the drug named Edotide? Is it because you are from Edo State? Yes, and also I am a Nigerian. Edotide was coined because the first paper we published, having observed that there were components, bitter leaves extract that could inhibit the proliferating activities of human extrogen receptor positive breast casinoma cells, we observed that some of the active components were prolypeptide.
So, at that time I thought it was a good thing.
We got this first batch of bitter leaves from Benin City, Edo State. I did it myself. I was the lead investigator in the study, Edo. Then the first few active compounds, they were prolypeptide.
I took the last four letters of prolypeptide, “tide” to make the compound word Edotide. So, basically, what it means is Edo prolypeptide or Edo protein. Those in science would understand and I am happy to say it was coined like that because the word Edotide did not exist but now it is in the literature, is in the medical vocabulary. There is another twist to that name.
As you are aware, “tide” besides being the surface of prolypeptide, the four letter word to denote protein, tide itself also means body of water like river, they go through succession of tide, rise and fall.
That is another way tide can be used and tide can also be used to say momentum of opinion. For example, if something is going on, you can say this is the tide of opinion.
I think in the law profession they have that preponderance of evidence. That is why the symbol in the High Court. You have this scale that is like a balance. So you say well, whichever side it weighs to, that is where the judgment goes. To summarize that, tide, another thing to it now is that when you say Edotide, this product is also the consensus of Edo people.
That’s another way to look at it. We also think that the Edo people will join us and spread the word. I know the palace, His Majesty has been very supportive. I had the honour in 2006/2007 to be in his majestic presence and the question that he asked me, he the Oba of Benin, was why Edotide?
He said most scientists that he has heard of, or known, they name something after themselves. My humble opinion at that time was common interest in my judgment always override individual interest.
I just feel that I am an Edo person, if you name it Edo, all Edo-speaking people can take glory in the name. Not only Edo, all Nigerians can take glory because Edo State is part of Nigeria, indeed, all Africa, because Nigeria is part of Africa.
At the beginning, there was never an ounce of selfishness. It’s always about the people and how I can make my modest contribution to society.