Driven by tragedy

ChinAfrica - - Africa Report -

While he sur­vived, Agbo saw chil­dren of his age die around him and those im­ages stayed in his mind. Three decades later, when he saw things were still al­most the same, he felt since he had the knowl­edge to ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion, he should work to bring about change.

By that time, there had been plenty of changes in his life. The vil­lage boy had re­ceived a Doc­tor’s de­gree of Ve­teri­nary Medicine from the Uni­ver­sity of Ibadan, Nige­ria, and was work­ing for the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment of Nige­ria. Then he was sent to the Nether­lands on a year-long train­ing pro­gram and was drawn to the grow­ing buzz about biotech­nol­ogy. He wanted to study this new sci­ence that seemed to hold so much po­ten­tial, ap­plied for a schol­ar­ship, and came back with a PH.D in molec­u­lar ge­net­ics from the Utrecht Uni­ver­sity, the Nether­lands.

The de­gree helped him get a job at the Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity in Mary­land, the United States, and af­ter a stint there, by which time he had ac­quired per­ma­nent U.S. res­i­dency, he de­cided to start his own com­pany, Fy­o­dor Biotech­nolo­gies. “Fy­o­dor means di­vine gift in Rus­sian,” he ex­plained. “I kind of see it as an op­por­tu­nity to leave some­thing on the planet that will make a pos­i­tive change.”

How­ever, when he founded Fy­o­dor in Mary­land, many thought it was a crazy thing to do. “In 2008, the world econ­omy was at the bot­tom and it was tough to start out. But we saw an op­por­tu­nity.” The op­por­tu­nity was Africa, where malaria was still ram­pant. So his plan was to de­vise a sim­ple test kit, like a do-it-your­self preg­nancy kit, that would en­able peo­ple to find out if they had malaria fast and with­out any fuss.

“We used the model of Nige­ria-u.s. oper­a­tions with en­ti­ties in both coun­tries since we could use the lo­gis­tics in the United States to find a prod­uct that could be mar­keted in Africa,” he said. Grants from the U.S. Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment and the Mary­land Gov­ern­ment as well as fund­ing by an­gel in­vestors helped raise the money to start Fy­o­dor, re­cruit his team and re­search and ex­per­i­ment for seven years. Fi­nally, the Urine Malaria Test (UMT) kit be­came a re­al­ity in 2015.

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