Nigerian Scientists Develops 3 Drugs For Lassa Fever Treatment

An ecologist extracts a sample of blood from a Mastomys Natalensis rodent in the village of Jormu in southeastern Sierra Leone February 8, 2011. Lassa fever, named after the Nigerian town where it was first identified in 1969, is among a U.S. list of "category A" diseases -- deemed to have the potential for major public health impact -- alongside anthrax and botulism. The disease is carried by the Mastomys Natalensis rodent, found across sub-Saharan Africa and often eaten as a source of protein. It infects an estimated 300,000-500,000 people each year, and kills about 5,000. Picture taken February 8, 2011. To match Reuters-Feature BIOTERROR-AFRICA/ REUTERS/Simon Akam (SIERRA LEONE - Tags: HEALTH SOCIETY ANIMALS) - GM1E72F07HC01

The National Biotechnology Development Agency, NABDA, has identified three candidate drugs to be repositioned and repurposed for the treatment and eradication of Lassa fever.

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Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, Director-General of NABDA, disclosed this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria on Friday in Abuja.

Mr Mustapha said scientists at the Genetics, Genomics and Bioinformatics Department of the agency, led by its Director, Prof. Oyekanmi Nash, in collaboration with other researchers spearheaded the research.

“This is NABDA’s contribution towards finding a lasting solution to Lassa fever disease in Nigeria.

“Diseases are increasing on a yearly basis. So, NABDA has repositioned and repurposed three candidate drugs for the treatment of Lassa fever,’’ he said.

He expressed optimism that the drugs would address the challenges faced in treating patients diagnosed with Lassa fever ailment.

The NABDA boss recalled that on Wednesday, March 2, eminent scientists, researchers, medical practitioners and technology experts held a meeting in Abuja.

He said objective of the meeting was to discuss the method and processes of putting the drugs on clinical trial towards meeting plans to completely eradicate Lassa fever in Nigeria.

He added that with the breakthrough the challenge was to intensify surveillance and response by ensuring availability of diagnostic centres across most affected regions.

Mr Mustapha said although funding was a major setback to research, he expressed optimism that the 0.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), allocated to research and innovation by President Muhammadu Buhari could assist.

He said the allocation was encouraging, and that scientists should be happy about it.

“I hope it will be implemented before another administration comes to power for it will not only propel research but will encourage scientists in Diaspora to come home and help develop our nation,” he said.

Prof. Oyekanmi Nash, Director of Genetics, Genomics and Bioinformatics of the NABDA, noted that Lassa fever is a ravishing disease peculiar to Nigeria and West Africa.

He said Lassa fever had been without drugs in Nigeria for almost 50 years.

“Fortunately, science has advanced to the point where already approved drugs can be repositioned for a new disease.

Nash also said the objectives of the stakeholders’ meeting of March 2, was to review the Lassa virus evolution in the last 50 years.

He said they also reviewed the outgoing treatment options and gaps, presented and assessed opportunities for the repurposed candidate, as well as developed a robust trial plan.

Speaking in an interview, Prof. Babatunde Salako, Director-General, Nigeria Medical Research Institute, one of the attendees at the meeting, said Lassa fever required special funding.

Mr Salako said moving science forward in Nigeria required all scientific institutes in the country to work together, in order to make progress.

“Lassa fever happens to be one disease in Nigeria that we haven’t been able to find solution and it is a problem that is peculiar to Africa especially to the West African sub region.

“Researchers in NABDA and their colleagues were able to come up with a repurpose agent that we can use to tackle the menace of Lassa fever in Nigeria,” he added.

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