Thu. Sep 23rd, 2021

To adequately prepare the Filipino people against future pandemics, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go has expressed his support for the establishment of a virology institute which will eventually enable the country to develop and manufacture its own vaccines against diseases, such as Covid-19.

President Rodrigo Duterte is studying the proposal of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to reactivate the pharmaceutical development unit at DOST-ITDI (Industrial Technology Development Institute) and establish a virology institute in the country, which has already been approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and eyed for inclusion in the government’s Build! Build! Build! program.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson has earlier filed Senate Bill 1543 seeking the establishment of a Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines (VIP) under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) — that would be the country’s “premier research and development institute in virology, conducting activities and in-depth study on the viruses affecting the lives of people and resources.”

The virology institute would operate a virus gene bank, a virus genome laboratory, and a virus reference laboratory “to focus on viruses circulating in the Philippines for disease prevention and epidemiological studies,” as well as to operate a virus high containment laboratory “dedicated to the study of highly infectious and highly pathogenic viruses.”

A lab for ground-breaking research

DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña, explained that the institute will “conduct innovative scientific research on viral agents requiring high or maximum containment (biosafety level-2 to biosafety level-4) following the World Health Organization’s guidelines on the establishment of a virology laboratory in developing countries. Research studies on viral agents will focus on vector/reservoir transmission, viral ecology, clinical virology, pathogenesis, pathophysiology, and host immune response to these viral pathogens.”

In the same post, the Sec. de la Peña said that the institute may explore the fields of:  enteric infections, respiratory infections, central nervous system infections, viral infections in the immunocompromised host, antiviral and antimicrobial resistance,

viral diversity, plant pathology, plant–virus interactions, and major plant viruses.

Meanwhile lamenting the hardships government authorities need to go through to procure vaccines for the country from the global market, Senator Go hopes for the proposed institute to eventually capacitate the country to develop and manufacture its own vaccines.

“Naaawa na nga po ako sa mga kasamahan natin sa gobyerno na halos walang tulog para bigyan lang tayo ng bakuna. Ginagawa naman po ng gobynero ang lahat sa abot ng makakaya para makakuha ng bakuna. Sabi ko, panahon na rin na magkaroon tayo nito para handa na tayo kung ano pang pandemya ang dumating,” he said.

The Senator envisions the proposed institute to create strategic partnerships with other leading virology centers, institutes and scientists and conduct innovative research that will advance the country’s progress and development in the field of virology.

These researches could eventually be adopted by concerned government agencies, private entities, and the academe to guide them in developing policies, implementing action plans, and managing medical resources during health crises.

The government has already allocated an amount of PhP50 million in the 2021 General Appropriations Act for the detailed engineering design of the virology institute which is planned to be built in New Clark City in Tarlac province.

Measures have also been introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to institutionalize the proposed virology research.

In the meantime, Go urged the government to invest in building local manufacturing capabilities to eventually veer away from the country’s reliance on the international market for vaccines.

The Senator also asked the Department of Science and Technology, with the help of health experts, local pharmaceutical companies, the private sector, as well as those from the academe, to engage with international vaccine producers so that the government could immediately start locally manufacturing much needed COVID-19 vaccines.

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