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Babafemi Taiwo, the UI product leading US search for COVID-19 drug

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic began over four months ago, about 3.6 million people have been infected while 250,000 have died from the disease globally. For what started as a novel coronavirus largely unknown, scientists and countries world over still battle in search of drugs and vaccines to save human lives.

At the heart of the United States efforts to find a drug for COVID-19 is Babafemi Taiwo, a Nigerian-born doctor who played a leading role in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) clinical trial of remdesivir, an antiviral drug, which has now been found to be effective in treating COVID-19 patients.

As chief of infectious diseases at Northwestern Medicine, Taiwo, a professor of medicine, was in charge of Northwestern’s branch of the study which began a few months ago. That feat was, however, only one of his numerous contributions to healthcare in the US and globally. 

INFECTIOUS DISEASES GURUNigerian-born doctor making the most populous black nation on earth proud with his feat

In 2005, Taiwo started out as an infectious diseases fellow at Northwestern Medicine, established to “consistently high standards of quality, academic and research excellence, cost-effectiveness and patient satisfaction, where the patient comes first.”

After joining the health centre, he rose through the ranks, publishing a lot of scholarly articles most of which proffered solutions to various infectious diseases ravaging the world. The high point of his time at Northwestern was in 2006 when he was named to lead its research and work as the chief of infectious diseases.

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Taiwo had said: “Our goal in the Division of Infectious Diseases is to occupy the front line of patient-centred discovery in our field and deliver high-quality care and education every day.”

Douglas Vaughan, the institution’s head of medicine, described him as “an astute and respected clinician… an exceptionally effective educator, and an accomplished clinical investigator and international leader in anti-retroviral therapy and HIV-associated infectious maladies.”

GRADUATED FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF IBADAN

Nigeria’s first university where Taiwo graduated in 1991

Yes, you read that right.  The medical doctor began his journey in Nigeria in the four walls of the University of Ibadan, where he obtained his medical degree in 1991. He then proceeded to Berkshire Medical Centre for his postgraduate resident training in internal medicine from where he finished in 1996 and in 2005, began his fellowship at the McGaw Medical Center at Northwestern University.

He currently holds board certification in internal medicine and infectious disease, and has published over 120 works on medicine and health.

THE SEARCH FOR COVID-19 DRUG

In February, the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) sponsored the first clinical trial in the country to evaluate an experimental treatment for COVID-19 with the use of remdesivir, which was first developed for the potential treatment for Ebola.

This drug has reportedly been administered on 150 COVID-19 patients and they recovered

Taiwo was an integral part of the study on the drug which the US has approved for COVID-19 patients, and which has been effective in treating about 150 patients.

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Speaking about the trial and his involvement, Taiwo had told CNN: “This is the first time that a drug that showed promise in the laboratory actually crossed the bridge and demonstrated efficacy in the patient population for whom it’s been tested. And so the trial that was reported today showed that looking at two important metrics of patient outcomes, number one, time to recover, and number two, survival, the study, at least using the data that we have, now showed good results.”

HIV HERO

His contribution to the finding the drug against HIV was acknowledged

As evident in his works at Northwestern and in his role as the director of research in Africa at the Institute for Global Health, Taiwo’s interest is mainly in clinical HIV/AIDS research with a focus on optimal approaches to HIV treatment using anti-retroviral drugs and the potential role of immune-based therapies. 

One of the evidences of his successes researching HIV is the the John Carey Young Investigator Award, which he won in 2009. The award was established to recognise junior investigators who “have made significant contributions to the advancement of knowledge about Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and its complications.”

He was specifically recognised for the award for his contributions  to research on HIV resistance and management of co-infections.

Some of his other works on HIV include this on the limited correlation between systemic biomarkers and neurocognitive performance before and during HIV treatment, on the trend of non-subtype B HIV-1 Infections in Nigeria and Malawi as well as this on detection of acute HIV infection in sub-saharan Africa.

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REMEMBERING HOME

In 2013, Taiwo, then an associate professor, started a five-year project to help Nigerian scientists stabilise the nation’s healthcare approach, with focus on the University of Ibadan which he hoped to “transform into the epicentre of neuroAIDS research in Africa.”

Speaking of the project, the doctor had said: “We now have the ability to treat HIV so well that patients can live long and healthy lives. However, almost half of these individuals continue to display evidence of impaired cognitive function, despite the disease being held in check.

“What we know is that these disorders worsen quality of life and drive poor adherence to anti-retro-viral treatment (ART) – the drugs used to suppress HIV – thereby increasing the risk of morbidity, mortality, and HIV spread. Right now, in Nigeria, there is no evidence base to inform clinical practice, limiting progress in the field.”

This time, Taiwo’s work is not just focused on UI or sub-saharan Africa which is often the focus of his research alongside the US. The medical doctor is on the forefront of a race to save humanity from COVID-19; a feat Nigeria is surely proud of.


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