Local HIV drug researcher gets funding

A local reproductive health specialist, who is among 168 local innovators and entrepreneurs who will share out Sh9.2 billion start up fund given by Nigerian billionaire Tony Elumelu, believes the funds will help develop the first Kenya made HIV prevention drug.

The funds were made available by the Tony Elemelu Foundation though the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme.

The programme plans to identify and help grow 10,000 start-ups and young businesses from across Africa over the next 10 years. According to a press release issued by the Tony Elumelu Foundation on Monday, more than 20,000 entrepreneurs from 52 African countries had applied to the programme.

“I am very excited. The funds will definitely help in our research and in the distribution of some medical products already in the market,” said Gichuhi Mwethera of the Karen based Institute of Primate Research.

Since 2005, Dr Mwethera has developed and patented a microbicide, UniPron for use as a contraceptive and protect against HIV infection.

“By providing women with a gel that they can use without consent from men, we will be empowering them,” he said.

The research, which has been published in the peer-reviewed African Journal of Reproductive Health, Journal of Reproduction and Contraception, and the Journal of Medical Primatology, among others, explains Mwethera who started the work about 15 years ago, featured 10 baboons.

After extensive studies on the baboons, he found the product to have three distinctive qualities. Its capacity to kill the Aids-causing virus makes it a possible candidate as a microbicide. Secondly, its capacity to immobilise sperms makes it a contraceptive and thirdly, it is has been found to be an effective lubricant for various medical and personal applications.

“After establishing these capabilities and the safety of the product on the animals, the next logical step is to do clinical trials on humans but this is exorbitantly expensive,” said the reproductive health specialist.

The Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme winners are yet to know how much money each will get but the first phase of training on entrepreneurship could take off by June. Mwethera’s medical innovations won the African Innovation Award in Brazzaville in 2013.