Chukwuma Agubata – Beacon of a New Frontier in Malaria Research

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Malaria has for many years been a major public health concern in Nigeria. The disease accounts for more deaths and morbidity in Africa’s most populous nation than in any other country in the world. This challenge has spurred many researchers, especially those from Nigeria, to look for more effective ways of treating the deadly disease despite inadequacy of resources and unfavourable research environment. One of such assiduous researchers is Dr Chukwuma Agubata, the joint winner of the 2017 NLNG Nigeria Prize for Science.

The award, sponsored by the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas company (NLNG), is Nigeria’s highest scientific award, which celebrates excellence in science breakthroughs and comes with a cash prize of $100,000. The 2017 edition of the award sought to find solutions to malaria through its theme for the year, “Innovations in Malaria Control”.

There are an estimated 100 million malaria cases, with over 300,000 deaths per year in Nigeria.  This means that about 34 Nigerians die per hour due to malaria.

Dr Agubata’s research “Novel lipid microparticles for effective delivery of Artemether antimalarial drug using a locally-sourced Irvingia fat from nuts of Irvingia gabonensis var excelsa (ogbono)”, along with two other entries, emerged joint winners out of 27 entries for the 2017 award cycle. The other two joint winning entries were “Improving Home and Community Management of Malaria: Providing the Evidence Base” by Ikeoluwapo Ajayi, Ayodele Jegede and Bidemi Yusuf; and “Multifaceted Efforts at Malaria Control in Research: Management of Malaria of Various Grades and Mapping Artemisinin Resistance” by Olugbenga Mokuolu.

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Agubata’s entry was recommended because of the demonstration of its productive scientific application, which identified the potency of the use of “ogbono” oil to ensure that administered anti-malaria (artemether, a derivative of artemisinin) drug is well absorbed.

One of the important problems associated with malaria treatment is ineffective drug absorption by cells. Artemisinin, one of the widely used antimalaria drugs, has the advantage over other drugs in having an ability to kill faster and kill all the life cycle stages of the parasites. However, its low bioavailability (i.e the proportion of the drug absorbed into the body’s systemic circulation) and other poor pharmacokinetic properties, such as short half-life, are the major drawbacks of its use as a monotherapy for malaria.

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Interestingly, Agubata’s discovery on the use of novel lipid microparticles for effective delivery of artemether antimalarial drug using fat from the nuts of ogbono grown in Nigeria provides some interesting opportunities for local approach to addressing the limitations of Artemisinin therapy. Good absorption will lead to high levels of the antimalarial drug in the systemic (blood) circulation which in turn will increase cure rates and reduce the chances of emergence of resistance to artemisinin by the malaria parasite.

Background and education

Agubata was born on 8 August, 1976 in Lagos. He had his primary education at Army Children School (NAFRC) Oshodi, Lagos, before proceeding to Bishop Crowther Seminary School, Awka, for his secondary education.

Agubata graduated from the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, with a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree (B.Pharm) in 2001. He subsequently obtained his master’s and PhD degrees in Pharmaceutical Technology and Industrial Pharmacy respectively from the same institution.

After brief stints with some pharmaceutical companies, Agubata joined the Anambra State civil service in 2006 and worked in the Department of Pharmaceutical Services, Ministry of Health. Four years later, he got an appointment as Lecturer II in the Department of Pharmaceutical Technology and Industrial Pharmacy, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). He has remained with the department till date, and is currently a senior lecturer in the department.

Agubata has published several articles in peer-reviewed journals. He has a patent in drug delivery involving lipids derived from Irvingia species (ogbono). He is a beneficiary of TetFUND institution-based research grant.

Agubata is the principal investigator of Good Manufacturing Practice Research Group, UNN.  He is also the editor-in-chief of Journal of Pharmaceutical Development and Industrial Pharmacy, as well as being a guest editor for Hindawi publishers.

Agubata is a member of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and a Fellow of the Institute of Corporate Administration.

His research interest areas include Drug Delivery, Tablet Technology, Lipid-Based Formulations, Pharmaceutical Nanotechnology, Transdermal and Topical Products.

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Agubata is from Enugwu-Ukwu, Njikoka local Government Area of Anambra State, Nigeria. He is happily married with children.

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