Driven by tragedy
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.