Dr. Davy Kiprotich Koech, or Davy as he was known to his peers and friends, was the youngest medic to ascend to the top seat at Kemri in 1979 at the tender age of 28 when he was still a doctoral student in immunology at the University of Nairobi.
From 1980 to early 1990s, the 71-yr-old David Koech’s reputation in scientific research soared globally, earning him accolades for his role in research on HIV/Aids and other emerging tropical diseases.
Having risen from a chief researcher to a director at the research agency, for years Dr Koech remained one of the most powerful medics who called the shots in the country.
Those who closely worked with him say Koech was one of the few individuals who had the late President Moi’s ear.
In 1988, as his star continued to shine, President Moi appointed him to chair a Commission of Inquiry into the country’s education system.
It all began on June 1,1990, when President Moi in his address to the nation, announced to the world that Kenya had discovered a drug to cure HIV/Aids, a disease that was then ravaging countries, particularly the third world.
According to the President, the drug, Kemron, developed by Kemri, had so far cured 10 patients under trials.
Shortly after the President’s pronouncement, Koech together with Dr Arthur Obel, the then chief research officer at Kemri, stirred the medical fraternity when they published in two medical journals initial results of Kemron, which they said were born from a preliminary study on 10 patients to cure Aids.
The two scientific papers transformed Koech into an instant global celebrity, winning the hearts of African-Americans who accused the United States Food and Drug Administration of deliberately dragging its feet in the approval of an Aids cure.
To the African-Americans, Koech was a godsend, an icon who had rescued the black communities from the ravages of Aids.
The drug was subsequently launched at a colourful ceremony presided over by Moi with the ruling party Kanu leaders hailing it as “a major step in the war against Aids”.
In 2006, Koech was nominated for the Genius Laureate of the American Biographical Institute.
Koech’s claim to fame was, however, short lived as trials funded by the World Health Organisation in 10 African countries failed to identify an iota of health benefits in the drug.
In what would eventually embarrass President Moi and Kenyan medical scientists, WHO declared Kemron as an experimental drug of unproved benefit for HIV/Aids treatment.
As if that was not enough, the American National Institute of Health in its report, dismissed Kemron as “a fraud” since no one had been able to duplicate the effects claimed by Koech’s team. Now Koech, 71, is spending six years in jail for stealing Kemri money.
And with the order, probably came the end of the professional life of one of Kenya’s most illuminating medical researchers whose career exploits will be difficult to erase.
On December 12 2006 he was convicted of irregularly acquiring Sh6 million. He was also charged with corruptly acquiring Sh12.5million from the research institution.
He was charged that on August 17, 2006 in Nairobi he fraudulently acquired Sh800,000 the property of Kemri
The alternative counts were that he used his office to corruptly confer to himself monies held in the account of Vector Biological and Control Research (VBCR).
The magistrate said the Economic and Anti-Corruption Act (Aceca) requires offenders to be punished to serve as a lesson to would-be offenders.
But in October 2021, after failing to raise Sh19.6 million to pay as a fine after he was found guilty of corruptly acquiring public funds, the court slammed the doors on the former Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) boss, ordering that he begins serving his jail term forthwith.
To date, his name remains among the 500 Greatest Geniuses of the 21st Century.
And for decades, the scientist remained a powerhouse as he combined his intellectual acumen with political connections to remain afloat.