Dr Akawa Oluwole Bidemi was awarded a PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry for his study on the use of combinatorial in silico techniques in the selective targeting of bromodomain and extra-terminal proteins (BETs) to combat castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC).
It was supervised by Professor Mahmoud E.S. Soliman.
‘I feel a sense of pride, relief, and excitement, especially because my greatest motivator and backbone, my dad who died last year, would have been really proud,’ said Bidemi. ‘I am grateful to God who saw me through all the challenges and sacrifices I had to make to get here.’
Currently employed as a lecturer at Afe Babalola University, which is one of the fastest-growing private universities in Nigeria, Bidemi plans to pursue postdoctoral opportunities to hone his drug design and development skills, particularly in relation to new products capable of making CRPC an easily treatable disease. ‘In the long-term, I hope to become a professor in my chosen field and a world-renowned scientific researcher who makes breakthroughs,’ he said.
He noted that prostate cancer (PCa) is one of the most common cancers affecting men worldwide, with Africa suffering a higher incidence and mortality rate than other regions.
‘Using advanced computer-assisted techniques, I investigated how small molecules can be used to target some epigenetic regulators like BET (unsuccessfully studied by other researchers) by focusing on important mechanistic alterations associated with this potential therapeutic effect such that there is improved potency and efficacy but reduced cross target and deleterious effects. I was able to identify these important mechanistic changes so that future drug development using BET proteins will be successful and society will have access to drugs capable of treating the CRPC variant of PCa at a relatively affordable cost,’ explained Bidemi.
‘I have always been fascinated by the concept of drug development and design especially considering how difficult it was to come up with a hit or lead compound in the past. Computer-aided drug design (CADD) has become an integral part of the drug discovery process in the modern pharmaceutical industry for various reasons including efficiency, cost-effectiveness, predictability, innovation, and the room for a multidisciplinary approach.’
He experienced a number of challenges during his PhD journey, including funding and grappling with the multidisciplinary nature of the programme. He also acknowledged the need for a solid foundation in chemistry, biology, physics, and computer science.
‘The complex software tools I needed to learn also required a significant amount of time and effort. Through grit, perseverance, and dedication, I overcame,’ he said.
Bidemi described his overall study experience at UKZN as ‘beautiful. I particularly enjoyed the spirit of togetherness and brotherhood at my residence and my laboratory. Professor Soliman, my supervisor ensured that I reached the desired end and UKZN provided almost all that I needed to succeed. I will never forget how helpful the University was during the COVID-19 pandemic and am really grateful for the experience it offered me.’
Words: Nombuso Dlamini