Locally-produced vaccines in Nigeria will be ready in about four years, Oyewale Tomori, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Biovaccines Nigeria Limited, has said.
Addressing a press conference in Lagos, Tuesday, Mr. Tomori, a Professor of Virology, said the Board is taking calculated steps to ensure they get everything right.
"I presume one of the questions you are likely to ask is when Biovaccines will have its first vaccine in the market," Mr. Tomori said.
"Vaccine production is a highly technical and complex technology which requires time to perfect.
"Usually, a Greenfield project will require five to eight years gestation period. But we cannot wait that long.
"We are engaging our experts and relevant government agencies to see how we can shorten this process without making quality compromise. It is our hope that we can achieve production within the next 3 - 4 years.
"As a private and independent company, Biovaccines is not encumbered by any bureaucracy and so we are confident that with the expected cooperation from government, the management of the company will move swiftly to achieve our goals in record time."
The Nigerian government and May&Baker Nigeria Plc in January formally inaugurated the Board of Directors of Biovaccines Nigeria Limited.
The company is a joint venture between the Federal Government (49 percent) and May&Baker Nigeria Plc (51 percent).
The joint venture, which targets local manufacture of vaccines between 2017 and 2021, was approved by the Federal Executive Council last year.
Mr. Tomori said the building and setting up the laboratory is a lengthy process and the Board would not cut corners to achieve their goals.
"We are not the first vaccine manufacturers in the world. The vaccines we have been using, others have been manufacturing it, and there's no way we are going to work alone," he said.
"We're going to work in partnership with others, those people who are already producing vaccines.
"So our partnership includes getting some of what they are producing and finishing it up in Nigeria, making it a finished product, before we move on to producing our own vaccines. So that explains the three years first and then eight years later."
While he did not disclose the type of vaccines to be manufactured, Mr. Tomori said they had gotten a commitment from the Nigerian government that whatever is produced will be purchased to meet the country's vaccination needs.
"We are not going to produce anything that will harm any Nigerian, that's our message, that's our creed, and that's what we are going to ensure happens.
"We cannot work in isolation, you have to look at what is existing in the world, who is producing what vaccine? How soon are they producing it? Then you also have to think, what are the peculiar problems in your own country that nobody is producing vaccines for?"
Nigeria had produced its own vaccines between 1940 and 1991 to tackle such ailments as smallpox, yellow fever, and rabies. It was also exporting vaccines to Cameroun and the Central African Republic among other countries.
The country's vaccine production laboratory closed in 1991.
Nnamdi Okafor, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of May&Baker Nigeria Plc, said it is understandable for Nigerians to be in a hurry because talks about local vaccine production have been ongoing for more than 15 years.
He, however, assured that the company is committed to meeting the three - four years target.
"Yes, in a classical situation, it could take five to eight years if you want to start from the seed virus until you get the final product, but you know you could start from somewhere else and still get the product and now go back to do the seed virus," said Mr. Okafor, a pharmacist.
"So we are trying to implement a strategy that will ensure that we get our first vaccine faster and then we can now work backwards, so that's just how this will happen."
Mr. Okafor noted that although the government had made a significant investment in the partnership, the process would be driven by the private sector.
"One thing we have tried to do is to plan well. We've been planning for the past eight months, we have our strategic advisers who have vast experience doing this same thing in other places," he said.
"We are making sure that we take it in a manner that will ensure that it sustains itself. Yes, there is a social angle to it because we're talking about immunisation here, but it's a business, so we will ensure that whatever strategy we adopt will make the venture self-sustaining, even if it's not profitable so that we don't have to, at some point, get stranded."