In this exclusive interview with Adebayo Alonge, Co-founder, RxAll Inc, he talked about fake and counterfeit drugs in the face of COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ibadan-born pharmacist won the 2019 deepTech Challenge at the Hello Tomorrow conference with a €100,000 (about N40.6 million) prize in Paris.
Alonge through his health tech startup RxAll, co-developed a miniature nanoscanner that uses AI to identify fake drugs and assess general drug quality on mobile phones.
About 15 years ago, Alonge said he almost died of fake drug while growing up in Ibadan. That experience prompted him to study pharmacy at the University of Ibadan. Over the years, he has worked in the pharma industry globally with major multinationals such as Roche-Swipha, BASF and BCG.
Excerpts from the interview:
Inside Oyo: Tell us about yourself and what prompted you to establish an innovative company and technology combating fake drugs globally?
Grew up in Ibadan. Son of Ibadan you may say. Almost died 15 years ago from fake drug in Ibadan. Decided to become a pharmacist. Graduated from UI and have worked in the pharma industry globally in last 10 years with major multinationals such as Roche-Swipha, BASF and BCG before going on for business and public policy degrees at LBS, Yale & Harvard and then starting RxAll with a full understanding of how to solve the problem of fake drugs. We solve this problem by providing drug testing and delivery services to curated pharma wholesalers, hospitals and pharmacies.
Inside Oyo: I know RxAll has branches in United States, China, Myanmar, Kenya and expanding to Nigeria – so tell us about the Technology startup RxAll, the team, and partners.
Adebayo Alonge: RxAll is a deepTech platform combining deep machine learning, spectroscopy and digital interfaces. We created our unique technology from PhD research at Yale in the USA. Although a lot of my inspiration for this technology initially was stimulated from the pharmaceutical chemistry laboratory at the Pharmacy faculty at UI during my undergrad there. We have an expanding team and operations across the world. Our pioneering multiple-award-winning product and world leading technology is the RxScanner™ that provides instant drug testing to enable the authentication of a drug in 20 seconds using a mobile phone. A feat never before done outside of a lab at the price point we offer and using mobile phones. This solution is currently used by major Big Pharma companies and leading country FDAs across the world.
We have also recently launched a Drug Delivery Platform – RxDelivered that helps hospitals, pharmacies and patients order authenticated drugs for home and office delivery at the lowest wholesale prices. We are reducing the price of medicines and enabling access to high-quality healthcare in Ibadan and across West Africa.
There are more innovative products we will be launching in the near future to enable Ibadan and ultimately all Africans access high-quality healthcare for a fraction of the cost they currently spend. We will make sure that no one dies from a fake drug or inability to afford and access high-quality healthcare in Ibadan and across Africa.
We have also been invested in by investors from Silicon Valley, Norway and Japan.
Inside Oyo: What prompted the quest to set up your West African base in Ibadan, Nigeria?
Alonge: I am a son of Ibadan so what better way can I give back than investing in Ibadan and hiring our people, providing training in the technology industry, and expanding Ibadan’s commercial dominance across the world in the technology industry. Furthermore our technology consultant, Barrister Timi Olagunju sent our board a well-researched proposal showing the benefits of establishing our West African operations in Ibadan- an investor-friendly environment created by the current Oyo government, a low cost operating highly educated workforce environment and proximity factors that allows us to access the highly attractive markets of West Africa.
In addition to what we are already doing in Oyo state and Nigeria, RxAll Inc. is currently searching for opportunities within Nigeria especially with a digital policy- friendly State Government (with a digital economy master plan). We will invest over $1million in the development of an African export factory that produces the RxAll’s AI Scanner that detects fake drugs in 20 seconds. The location of this factory in a state in Nigeria or Kenya is still being largely deliberated by the RxAll Board, because such investments in the innovation sector require serious public sector buy-in.
Inside Oyo: How has your Startup Company helped combat fake drugs in Oyo state and Nigeria during COVID-19 pandemic?
Alonge: We launched the RxDelivered platform with a fleet of delivery vans and bikes that helps deliver authenticated medicines at wholesale prices from our wholesaler network to hospitals, pharmacies, and patients in Ibadan, Oyo State.
The platform has delivered over 2.6Million healthcare products in the last 3 months and has helped achieve the following key objectives
1. Supporting social distancing efforts through a home, hospital, and pharmacy deliveries of authenticated and affordable high-quality COVID Test Kits, Ventilators, Chloroquine tablets, and personal protective equipment such as face masks, gloves, and sanitizers across West Africa.
2. Providing offline and online education and fact-checking to counter fake news about non-existent medicines, vaccines, and therapies that would otherwise have harmed people in the cities we operate in.
3. We enable patients to call in or WhatsApp our healthcare partners for counseling reducing the risk of exposure to COVID by eliminating the necessity to walk into hospital environments. Moreso this has helped free up the capacity of the health system to attend to more serious in-patient emergencies.
4. Certify drug quality at our wholesaler network using our RxScanner™ platform before delivery thus ensuring that our customers receive the best high-quality drugs and nipping counterfeiters during this time where cases of counterfeit drugs are on the rise as people in panic seek whatever drugs to protect themselves.
We currently service 500+ hospitals and pharmacies in West Africa. Some of our key partners in Ibadan include major pharmacies and hospitals such as Mosh Pharmacy, Carehub Pharmacy, IVE Pharmacy, Obeki Pharmacy, Ollan Pharmacy, Trioses Memorial Hospital
Inside Oyo: Do you have any plans as a Technology startup focused on solving indigenous drug problems? And what can the State and Federal Government do to support Startups such as yours in Nigeria?
Alonge: We are focused on solving problems with access to affordable, high-quality medicines in Oyo State, Nigeria, and across Africa and the rest of the world.
Our goal is to make it easy for anyone to stay at home and consult with a doctor, get clinical lab work done, and receive medicines through their mobile phone at the lowest cost possible.
We want to make sure that none of our people dies because of poor quality drugs or the inability to afford access to doctors, clinical laboratories, and pharmacies.
Through our work, this sad situation will end.
To support international startups like RxAll expanding operations in Nigeria, state governments can develop digital policies that boost the digital economy of their states. The digital economy is worth over 21 trillion USD and investor-companies like RxAll are looking for serious national and sub-national governments to partner with. For this to happen, governments need to drive innovation and digital economy policies, partnerships, and build technology clusters around their pioneering tech investor companies. Such clusters will catalyse training in digital skills that can bring in millions of dollars to state coffers in earnings made over the internet in addition to providing jobs.
Inside Oyo: With such Government support, what are the potentials of your startup, in terms of job creation and boosting the economy of Oyo state and Nigeria.
Alonge: We are already contributing in terms of job creation in Ibadan directly and even indirectly as we provide financing to our partner pharmacies and hospitals to expand their operations. Already with our work expanding our delivery fleet and running preliminary operations, we have helped enable over 500+ jobs directly and indirectly in the state.
If the right incentives are provided, we will invest a further $1 Million in the state to set up our African-export factory for the production of our RxScanner™. This has significant potential to create over 100K+ direct and indirect jobs in the state. And would be a great thing of pride for me to see the RxScanner labeled with Made in Ibadan, Nigeria. I am sure this will be for all of us Oyo people.
May God bless us all.