Bioscience Research Start-ups — The Way Forward In 2019? By Mercy Max-Harry

Some months ago, I had to present a paper on the case for the private sector in Bioscience Research and Development in Nigeria. Some of my discoveries shocked me and many further cemented in my heart the truth that Nigeria has a very long way to go. 

The Nigerian government sponsors over 40 research institutes all over the country yet unsurprisingly obtains very few or no groundbreaking results in solving the problems faced in the Bioscience fields. We have laboratories which do not work, staff who lack up-to-date knowledge and facilities near extinct and in some cases, especially universities, facilities quite up to date but saved only for when the Accreditation Board visits the school. 

So what’s the result we get?  Students who learn so much theory, very little practical and sometimes, alternative to practical courses (this one really makes me laugh). The ones who dare to read widely come up with really beautiful ideas for their dissertations or projects but are most times turned down. The facilities to carry out such laboratory work are either unavailable or neck-cutting expensive. 

These same Nigerian minds struggle their way into the western countries and are retained there as researchers. The western countries take the glory for the solution we proffer because, as usual, we fail to utilise our God-given potential. How can we when it is not oil? 

Beyond the obvious failure of our government in these areas and many others, there’s the part we, too, as a people have failed to play. Seventy percent of all funding for Research and Development in America, the world’s leading country for Bioscience research, comes from the private sector. Undoubtedly, the other 30% from the government cannot be matched with Nigeria’s yearly budget for Bioscience R and D but then this statistic tells a lot. 

The private sector must rise up if we want to see groundbreaking and phenomenal Bioscience research here in Nigeria. And there’s market for it. Very few companies here retail basic Molecular Biology Laboratory kits like DNA extraction or PCR reagents. The laboratories with sufficient equipment and technical knowhow are missing, too. 

As at yet, there are no more than five laboratories in Nigeria that perform DNA sequencing. Many who are in need of these services actually send their samples abroad. As simple as paternity test sounds, many of the companies in Nigeria which render these services send their samples abroad because they lack a Genetic Analyser. The first Forensic laboratory in Nigeria was commissioned in Lagos just in November. Whether it has begun to work or not, I do not know. But what I know is the lapses of our government provides a market for the private sector in Bioscience research in Nigeria. 

Some years ago in the country, we didn’t have as many tech hubs as we do now. Something began that revolution and today, there are quite a number of tech start-ups all over the country. 
It’s time to see more Research Laboratory start-ups. It’s time to see more investors invest in this area. There really is money in it and although it is not popular news, there’s a high demand for it with virtually every university having at least one department somehow related to the Biosciences. 

If we must grow, we must take Bioscience research seriously. There are cures to diseases that will not be found except Bioinformatics methods are utilised, agricultural development that may not come until simple genetic recombination and biotechnology methods are adopted here to a larger extent. And more importantly, dreams of the next generation which may not be realised if these facilities are not brought down here.

Max-Harry is a Biomedical Engineering Graduate and works as a Graduate Research Office/Sales Head at African Biosciences Ltd, a Private Molecular Biology Research Laboratory based in Ibadan, Nigeria.


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