Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Interview: Dr. Obinna C. Ubah, a Drug Researcher in the U.K.


As part of our efforts to provide NIPSAITES with people worthy of emulation in the Pharmacology Profession, Ms. Motunrayo Johnson (a 300l Pharmacology student and NIPSA E-magazine editor) sat down with Dr. Obinna C. Ubah, a Drug Researcher in the U.K.
Dr. Obinna gives us insight into his job as a drug researcher and his thoughts on the Pharmacology Profession in Nigeria.

Ms. Motunrayo:
Tell us, who is Obinna C. Ubah?

Dr. Obinna:
I hail from Imo State, but was born and raised in Enugu State. I am the first child in a “big” family of six. Completed my nursery, primary and secondary school education in Enugu State. I studied Pharmacy at the prestigious Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Benin. There were reasons (rational and silly) for my decision to study at the University of Benin, and I remain grateful for that singular experience and opportunity because I would not be speaking to you today as a scientist had I not encountered the University of Benin. Please be kind and not ask me about the “silly” reason. I moved to the United Kingdom in 2010 to undertake a postgraduate MSc degree in Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology; and went on to obtain a PhD degree in Medical Sciences specialising in therapeutic protein/antibody engineering, biologics drug discovery and molecular biology (Biotechnology).
I am a modest, hardworking and purpose-driven researcher, a founding shareholder and Lead Senior Scientist in biologics drug discovery for chronic inflammatory diseases at Elasmogen Limited, a University of Aberdeen spin-out biotech company. I also hold an honorary teaching position at the University of Aberdeen, where I teach both undergraduate and postgraduate medical science courses. I am also the President of a capacity building (academic knowledge transfer) Scottish registered Charity called The Foundation for the Innovative and Scientific Education in Africa (FISEA). I also hold a Postgraduate Certificate in Intellectual Property Law from the University of South Africa (UNISA) and several advanced certifications in Intellectual property management and Patent Law from the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Switzerland. I have interests in the business and commercialisation of science through IP exploitation. As an early career researcher, I am humbled to have published original research papers, review articles, text book chapters and patents. My political ideology is explicitly left-wing.

Ms. Motunrayo:
Can you elaborate on “spin-out” biotech?

Dr. Obinna:
A spin-out or spin-off company is an independent corporate entity that has split-off from a parent organisation. The decision to create a spin-out company from a parent organisation is usually for commercial purposes. Universities are the source of most spin-out companies (academic spin-outs) because it allows the University to commercially exploit their IP assets. If successful, the economic reward is colossal.

Ms. Motunrayo:
How closely related is your area of specialty to pharmacology?

Dr. Obinna:
My current research is biologics drug discovery, and what that means is that I develop protein-based therapeutic drugs to treat human diseases. Knowledge of pharmacology is imperative for developing potent and safe therapeutic candidates, and a requirement for regulatory approval. Although I do lots of protein engineering using molecular biology techniques, I am heavily dependent on my knowledge of pharmacology to create an effective drug candidate.

Ms. Motunrayo:
Why did you choose biotech research?

Dr. Obinna:
I became fascinated with Paul Ehrlich’s magic bullet theory of 1900 after completing my first formative course wok during my MSc programme. Biologics are the true and holistic definition of the magic bullet. The success of the biotechnology industry in tackling the current global health challenges is evident in its continuous growth. The annual global revenue of biologics is predicted to rise from 264 billion USD (2018) to 375 billion USD by 2022. Biologics are being widely used to provide effective treatment for many complex diseases such as cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease that have limited treatment options. I was also fortunate to have received a PhD scholarship to train under two of Europe’s top biotech experts, Prof. Andrew Porter and Dr. Caroline Barelle.



Ms. Motunrayo:
We will like to know, how it all started and when did you decide you were going to be a scientist?

Dr. Obinna:
In the spirit of transparency, I did not see myself as a scientist until I was in 4th year in Pharmacy School, although at age 13 I was certain that I will eventually undertake and complete a doctorate programme, but I never understood (and wasn’t taught) how I could achieve that. So, while studying Pharmacy in UNIBEN, I encountered this brilliant and extraordinary Senior lecturer in Pharmacology, who has since become a distinguished Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology. Prof Ray Ozolua not only influenced my career decisions, but also encouraged an approach to scientific integrity and diligence. This encounter has shaped the kind of scientist I am. I will say that it all started in UNIBEN, and by the end of my BPharm degree, I knew exactly what I wanted to be and how I could achieve that.


Ms. Motunrayo:
What does a typical day at work feel like?

Dr. Obinna:
A typical day for me entails a significant amount of my time spent in the research lab, meeting and speaking with collaborators, attending team meetings, teaching, reading research articles and keeping up to date with news in the biotech industry. We do eat a lot of cake and chocolates at work, that’s a significant part of our daily routine.


 Ms. Motunrayo:
What do you think of the Pharmacology Profession in Nigeria?

Dr. Obinna:
Honestly speaking, I am not conversant with the current status of the Pharmacology Profession in Nigeria, therefore my response will reflect on the performance or impact of the Pharmacology profession on the global stage. Pharmacology in my understanding is the crux of medical/health sciences, and I believe there are at least thirty universities in the country with operating departments of pharmacology, either as a stand-alone or incorporated as part of a Pharmacy/Medical school. But surprisingly this number does not translate to any measurable regional or global impact in the form of research innovation linked to the Nigerian Pharmacology community. It is my opinion that the profession in a broader sense (clinical pharmacology and therapeutics, pharmacology, pharmacology and toxicology) is deficient in its response to the regional health challenges, scientific or technological developments.

Ms. Motunrayo:
Do you think there is a future for scientific research in Nigeria?

Dr. Obinna:
I will have to sound optimistic and progressive at this point by responding in the affirmative to your question. Two reasons why I think there is still a future for scientific research in Nigeria; we currently have outstanding and innovative Nigerian researchers scattered across the globe who share the view that there can only be one true motherland. Also, we have you, the upcoming prospective scientists with curious and analytical mindset. Asking this question suggests you already understand what a thriving scientific research community should look like, and that’s not what you have around you now.
I attribute the dearth of a vibrant innovative and globally impacting scientific research in Nigeria to corruption and ineptitude in governance and the educational system. Nothing flourishes in a corrupt system, and the bar of transparency, integrity and competence is even set higher in the case of scientific research. We dream that someday from the shores of Nigeria we will begin to contribute substantially to the global research output and lead in ground-breaking discoveries in science, i.e. discover novel sub-atomic particles, explore the deep space, make life-saving and safe medicines, build the next generation clean-energy rapid transport system, exploit IP rights at the highest commercial level, attract significant R & D investments and strategic intercontinental partnerships and lead in developing technologies to combat climate change. None of these will ever happen if we as a people continue to sacrifice integrity, transparency, equality and competence on the altar of corruption, nepotism and ineptitude in Nigeria. 

Ms. Motunrayo:
Thank you very much for your time. We are very grateful.

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