Country Watch: Nigeria

Media Article 29 Mar 2008

I’ve just returned from participating and presenting at a workshop in Nigeria’s capital,  Abuja. The workshop was hosted by the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research & Development (NIPRD), a government run body, and was attended by of a number of pharmaceutical manufacturers from the region.

Unsurprisingly, I learnt that many of the problems facing the rest of the developing world with respect to development and intellectual property policies are also prevalent in Nigeria and its neighbouring states.

Speaking with a government official, I was told that many of the patents filed in Nigeria are by foreign entities. He estimated that the largest filings or granted patents are in the field of minerals and oil, the dominant industries in Nigeria. When asked about pharmaceutical patenting, he suggested that there were patents, but did not believe the figure to be prolific.

Like India and many other developing countries that have recently met their TRIPS obligations (although I hear that the new Patent Bill has been sitting on the shelf for the past two years waiting to be heard), there is a lack of infrastructure and transparency around the patent office in Nigeria. Housed within the Ministry of Commerce, many of the local pharmaceutical company officials and those of NIPRD said they didn’t even know where the patent office was located! Apparently there is little or no examination of applications by the patent office, which is manned by local lawyers. Many of the officials of companies didnt realise that patents were national rights and that there is no such thing as a global patent right. In fact one company representative mentioned  there is a backlog of marketing approval for generics in Nigeria because the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) will not grant approval if the product has an existing patent in the U.S, irrespective of whether there is a patent in Nigeria. I didn’t get the chance to verify this with someone from NAFDAC, but seems an extreme case of patent linkage if true.

It was also interesting to hear the stories of  pharmaceutical companies in the region seeking to develop R&D skills and technology transfer. However, it seems that most of the technology transfer and investment that has come their way has been from the leading developing countries China, India and Brazil. Indeed the Brazilian government has signed an agreement with Nigeria to provide technology transfer in the area of API development and production, but this seems to be moving slowly because of local government bureaucracy. One company CEO from Ghana said that any relationships with the big pharmaceutical companies are limited to sales, distribution or packaging of the products, with no technology transfer in sight. The inability to manufacture local API and obtain WHO pre-qualification seems to be a big sticking point for local companies.

That said, Nigeria and the government run NIPRD has scored some successes in R&D and tackling neglected diseases, albeit through the use of local traditional medicine practices. Nigeria is home to a significant amount of traditional knowledge and herbal medicine and the recent development of NIPRISAN (derived from piper guineenses seeds and pterocarpus osun stem) as a therapy for sickle cell disorder (SCD) has received good reviews. Like most developments coming out of public institutions, in order to ramp up investment, manufacturing and distribution, the patents on NIPRISAN were licensed to the US based Indian company Xechem Chemicals with a royalty of 7.5% (3% of which goes to the local medicine practitioner that alerted NIPRD of the plants healing qualities for SCD). NIPRD is now working on using traditional medicine practices to find a suitable therapy for malaria. However, the licensing of local knowledge to foreign companies is not without its problems and is something Nigeria is seeking to tackle.

I am hoping to return to Nigeria later this year, so hopefully I will be able to get some more insights into the patent office and pharmaceutical patenting trends.

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