Dr. Montoya educates us on how the country is leveraging its experience in supporting health researchers and developing technologies to rapidly but carefully develop a treatment and vaccine for COVID-19.
The world has spent most of 2020’s first half in quarantine, countries still struggling to find the best solutions, rolling out plans after plans to get through the pandemic and eventually flatten the coronavirus curve.
While the infection continues to claim lives every day, scientists are racing to find the sure exit path towards the end of the tunnel: a vaccine.
But on average, it takes more than a decade to develop a full-fledged vaccine. That of Ebola vaccine was record-breaking, which still took scientists five years to create one. This is because vaccine development is a lengthy and rigorous process, which involves a series of pre-clinical and clinical trials to ensure safety and efficacy prior to public use.
On top of that, it requires multiple expertise from specialized institutions, not to mention a massive investment which is estimated to reach $1 Billion for just one candidate.
During this crisis where every second is vital, people are always looking for updates on vaccine development efforts. We’ll let you in on some of the highlights of our talks with Dr. Jaime Montoya:
When asked about where the Philippines is at on COVID vaccine development efforts, here’s what Dr. Montoya has to say:
“As the lead coordinating body for health research in the Philippines, the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) is leveraging its experience in supporting health researchers and developing technologies to rapidly but carefully develop a treatment and vaccine for COVID-19.
Considering the available resources in the Philippines, and the required expertise and facilities needed for vaccine development, the Council builds on collaboration opportunities with international partners by participating in the clinical trials of the most advanced candidates.
This is a strategy that puts the country in advantage, as it will ensure that the successful vaccine becomes readily available in the Philippines. Right now, we are in discussion with international partners for their vaccine development initiatives, and DOST is making significant investments in support of this international collaboration.”
So, then we asked, can you tell us more about the specific partnerships we have?
“We are in contact with the British Embassy for the possibility of a Filipino and British scientists collaboration on vaccine-related research. The PCHRD has identified the study conducted by Professor Sarah Gilbert from the University of Oxford to be of high potential and advantageous to the Philippine situation considering they are already near to implementing a clinical trial. The prospective Filipino partners are already identified for this collaboration.
Scientific discussions have already commenced between Filipino scientists and scientists from China. SinoPharma and Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health, have vaccine candidates already in the advanced phases. We plan to be involved in the clinical trial for these vaccines to ensure its availability in our country once the vaccine has satisfied all the requirements of the Chinese and Philippine FDA. But these are just some of the potential international research collaborations that we may have in vaccine development.”
With all these in mind, what should be our biggest takeaway from all our efforts?
“It is interesting to note that on top of all of these vaccine efforts, we still have a lot of ongoing local initiatives to fight the pandemic. We also have local strategies on repurposing existing drugs for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. Let’s also not forget that our researchers have recently developed a rapid diagnostic kit for COVID-19.
We have provided our policymakers and LGUs expert information on COVID-19 forecasts through FASSSTER. Also, our investments on PPE development and telehealth devices have also contributed to ensuring the safety of our health workers and patients.
And while we are in the middle of fighting a pandemic, our Filipino researchers, with all the support from our science and technology department, are exhausting all means to still come out with products and technologies that may be useful in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
In our exploratory talks with different countries and scientists, we have formed a panel of leading experts on vaccine research and development. This panel is headed by Dr. Nina Gloriani, a highly experienced vaccine researcher and Professor Emeritus from the University of the Philippine College of Public Health. She is also accompanied by Dr. Mario Jiz from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, immunobiologist and scientist with extensive experience in the development of a vaccine for Schistosomiasis which is an endemic disease in the Philippines, and Dr. Isagani Padolina, scientist and head of the research division of Pascual Laboratories. The panel members also include eminent clinicians Dr. Rontgene Solante, head of Adult Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine at San Lazaro Hospital, and Dr. Ma. Liza Antoinette Gonzales, Associate Dean at UP College of Medicine.”
Nearing the second half of 2020, the world’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic still continues. With over 4 million cases, and nearly 300, 000 deaths worldwide, it is important for everyone to make “flattening the curve” happen: by staying at home, maintaining social distance, getting educated, and taking quite good care of ourselves.
- Written by Christine Jane Gonzalez
- Published: 18 May 2020