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Husband-and-wife team's winning formula

From Amanda Sealy, CNN
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Out to change pharmaceutical industry
  • Nigerians Amina and Isa Odidi are changing the face of pharmaceuticals
  • They've pioneered a drug delivery system that's more efficient and affordable
  • Their success is challenging negative perceptions about Nigerians

Every week CNN International's African Voices highlights Africa's most engaging personalities, exploring the lives and passions of people who rarely open themselves up to the camera. This week we profile Nigerian scientists Amina and Isa Odidi, founders of Intellipharmaceutics.

(CNN) -- Partners in life and in work, leading Nigerian scientists Amina and Isa Odidi are changing the face of pharmaceuticals.

While raising five children, the Canadian-based couple founded Intellipharmaceutics, pioneering an innovative drug delivery system.

The technology allows patients to take a drug once instead of many times a day, making it easier for them to manage and comply with doctors' orders.

"What makes this company unique is innovation, technology -- its ability to make products that you can take once that are using cutting-edge, novel drug delivery systems," Isa says of the publicly-traded firm.

The couple's journey to the top began in 1976 when they met in a university classroom in Nigeria. Their ambition led them to study abroad and they eventually settled in Canada.

How medicine is actually made
Finding their place in pharmaceuticals

For years they worked for pharmaceutical company Biovail, but in 1996, they decided to branch out on their own and founded their own company.

Working together to form a successful business partnership came naturally to the married couple.

"We complement each other," says Amina. "He is into equipment, I am into biopharmacy -- what actually happens to the drug when you take it in the human body. So we have complementary skills."

Last October, all of the couple's hard work was recognized when they were asked to ring the opening bell at the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York on the first anniversary of their company going public.

The moment was a special one for the two Nigerians who come from humble beginnings.

"It was really the height of the whole struggle, the whole work, to be recognized at that type of level, where you have so many millions of people watching and people in industry watching," says Isa.

Amina and Isa Odidi with their children.
Amina and Isa Odidi with their children.

"We've done what we've had to do. And we've gotten there and we've gotten recognized."

Having built everything from scratch, the Odidis have become respected members of the pharmaceutical industry.

The long hours they've put into their work have paid off as the company they've strived to create is now earning them millions.

At the same time, their success is also helping challenge negative perceptions about Nigerians.

It's good that there are other stories out there (about) Nigerians who are doing good things.
--Amina Odidi

"People hear the stories of the poor and the slums and so it's good that there are other stories out there (about) Nigerians who are doing good things, who are honest, who are hard working and doing their best," says Amina.

The professional success they enjoy isn't the only accomplishment for the Odidis. Having raised five children, the pioneering entrepreneurs take pride in also being successful, "hands-on" parents.

"In the midst of everything we did, we still had these children, we still carry them wherever we are, to raise them to be good citizens," says Amina.

Passionate and ambitious, the Odidis spend most of the hours of their day at their lab, always looking to perfect their pharmaceutical business.

Anima says she's driven by a desire to touch people who live with diseases: "That's what gives me the satisfaction," she says.

The end result is "making a difference, not just growing the company, but making these products available to the populace, to the market," she says.

When they are asked about the secret of their success, both Amina and Isa agree: hard work.

Their advice for young entrepreneurs is to persevere and dedicate many hours to their passion.

"Heaven helps those who helps themselves," says Isa. "It's a lot of hard work, a lot of hard work," he says.

"Prayer alone won't do it -- hard work as well, they go together."

Teo Kermeliotis contributed to this report