Ogwang scores big win in the fight over Covidex patent

Tuesday September 28 2021
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Prof Patrick Ogwang, the innovator of the herbal drug, Covidex, used in Covid-19 treatment.

By JAMES KABENGWA

Mbarara University of Science and Technology’s Legal, Rules, and Privileges committee has concluded that Prof Patrick Ogwang is the bona fide owner of Covidex.

The committee led by Dr Stevens Kisaka, whose members include Jolly Uzamukunda, Sarah Nyachwo, Prof Nixon Kamukama, and Dr Robert Bitariho, released a 16-page report this week with 10 conclusions, with the pick being “Covidex is a product that was originated by Jena Herbals Uganda Ltd and was in existence prior to the implementation of the research grant that government extended to MUST through the Technology ministry.” 

The conclusion runs counter to the committee’s earlier position on the herbal drug that the National Drug Authority (NDA) approved as a Covid-19 supportive treatment in June. 

Since that approval, which came after Uganda’s second wave of the pandemic, Prof Ogwang and Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) have locked horns over Covidex’s patent. 

Back then, Covidex was being produced, marketed and sold by Jena Herbals Uganda Limited, which is owned by Prof Ogwang. 

But in a June 14, press statement signed by its MUST vice chancellor held that Covidex was a product under development at its ivory tower by the Pharm Biotechnology and Traditional Medicine Centre (PHARMBIOTRAC). 

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It also revealed that a research grant from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MoSTI) propped up the herbal drug’s creation. 

They asked the general public to be patient and allow the product to undergo all necessary procedures. 

However, on July 6, the chairperson of MUST’s Council asked the office of the vice chancellor to compel and submit a report on the proprietary claims of the drug to the Legal, Rules and Privileges Committee and investigation into the matter commenced on September 3. 

The committee has now ruled that the patent for the herbal drug belongs to Prof Ogwang, the money the government used to fast track Covidex’s production notwithstanding.

“The Covidex on the market belongs to Jena Herbals [and] MUST does not possess the pharmaceutical formula for Covidex [which] Jena had at the time this committee interacted with him,” the report reads in part.

The committee also concluded that research on the three products in the grant had yielded no intellectual property. 
“PHARMBIOTRAC/Research team and MUST engaged with Jena Herbals (U) Ltd products without an Memorandum of Understanding, an action that proved to be against the interests, good name and image of the University,” the committee further ruled.

However, the committee also faulted Prof Ogwang for conflict of interest as he was director of Jena and principal researcher at MUST. 

The report also criticises MUST for lack of a commercialisation framework and that different researchers at the university have exploited this gap.

Background
In April 2020, PHARMBIOTRAC responded to a Call for Research Proposals from MoSTI and proposed to research PharmSan Innovations, a liquid and gel formulation hand sanitiser. 

A preclinical evaluation of three herbal drugs for effects against coronavirus was also included in the proposal.
The preclinical evaluation for one herbal drug was successful and funded by MoSTI with nearly Shs284m. 

Prof Patrick Ogwang, the deputy centre leader, was named as the principal investigator. Others on the research team included Dr Casim Umba Tolo, Dr Eunice Apio Olet, Mr Joseph Oloro, Mr Silvano Samba Twinomujuni, Mr Jimmy Ronald Angupale, and Dr Wafula Winfred of Soroti University.ssue

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