Dr. Jaime C. Montoya,Executive Director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (PCHRD-DOST) presented the government roadmap for the development of science-based herbal products for health and wellness during the roundtable discussion.

On February 15, 2012, Dr. Jaime C. Montoya, Executive Director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (PCHRD-DOST) led the roundtable discussion entitled “Strengthening the Science-Based Herbal Industry in the Philippines: Issues, Challenges and Solutions” at the Traders Hotel in Manila, organized by the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST).

The discussion focused on the challenges involved in the development of science-based herbal products for health and wellness in the Philippines. Action plans to resolve issues were also highlighted in the presentations.

Dr. Montoya presented PCHRD’s drug discovery and development program which includes the utilization of natural substances from terrestrial and marine sources that can be developed up to the pre-clinical stage for common infectious diseases and lifestyle related disorders.

According to Dr. Montoya, the drug discovery process takes time and requires huge amount of research funding.

“Out of 10,000 compounds screened, only five compounds reach clinical testing and only one compound makes it as a drug. This process takes up an average duration of 12 to 15 years and costs $1.2 to $1.6 billion,” Dr. Montoya said.

Though this is the case, he pointed out that confidence in the use of natural products cannot be underestimated. “The analysis of drug origins from 1981-2002 showed that 28% of new chemical entities (NCE) launched in the market were natural products and 24% were synthetic or natural mimic compounds. The combined 52% of new chemical entities suggests that natural products are important sources of new drugs or lead compounds suitable for further modifications during drug development,” he explained.

Dr. Montoya proposed the following options to consider in improving the program: 1) development or outsourcing of expertise; 2) identification of other options for conducting other pre-clinical assays, 3)consideration of medium throughput versus high throughput screening; 4) establishment of centralized facilities; and 5) conduct of pre-clinical screening only.

A leptospirosis vaccine holds the promise of immunity from acquiring leptospirosis. However, as of present, scientists are still looking for the perfect vaccine for leptospirosis, one that can provide longer lasting immunity and will be effective regardless of the serotypes present in an area.

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by infection with Leptospira bacteria. It is commonly transmitted to the victim when unhealed wounds, the eyes, or the mucous membranes come into contact with objects or environment that has been contaminated with the infected animals’ urine.

The most common types of vaccines for the prevention of leptospirosis that we see now are made from attenuated bacteria. This and the fact that there are countless of Leptospires serotypes in existence prove to be the Achiles’ heel of the available leptospirosis vaccines today. Attenuated vaccines do not last long and they are only useful for certain serotypes. Dr. Sharon Villanueva of the Kyushu University (KU) Department of Bacteriology explained, “Inactivated or attenuated vaccines in one country cannot be used in another because the prevailing Leptospira serovars is different from each country.”

To solve the problems in the existing leptospirosis vaccines, Dr. Villanueva and other researchers started the study, Pathogenicity Studies of Four Leptospira Isolates from the Philippines and Cocktail DNA Vaccination Trial Using Golden Syrian Hamster. Under the collaborative support of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (PCHRD-DOST), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), World Health Organization (WHO), University of the Philippines Manila (UPM), and KU, the research experimented with Golden Syrian Hamsters using proteins that have been suspected as virulence factors of leptospirosis.

Dr. Villanueva said, “The challenge now is to develop a safe vaccine that will elicit longer lasting immunity, a vaccine that is effective against multiple Leptospira serotypes. Our study aims to develop a universal vaccine, so to speak.”

Dr. Jaime C. Montoya (far right) of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development praised the collaborative works done under the LepCon program.

LepCon or the Prevention and Control of Leptospirosis in the Philippines is a research program on leptospirosis that is made possible through the collaboration of between the University of the Philippine Manila – College of Public Health (UPM-CPH), Kyushu University (KU), the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (PCHRD-DOST).

Two years after its implementation, the LepCon program has yielded outstanding results. Successful researches under the program were presented at the 1st Scientific Symposium on the Prevention of Leptospirosis in the Philippines, held at the UPM-CPH Auditorium on the 26th of January 2012.

The ongoing research on leptospirosis vaccine took the center stage in the symposium, Dr. Jaime C. Montoya, Executive Director of the PCHRD-DOST, enlightened everyone on the praise-worthy partnerships made by the participating bodies. He commended the collaboration between PCHRD, JICA, UPM-CPH, KU and WHO on the LepCon program. He described why it is very important for organizations to come together for a common cause. He said, “The beauty of having partners and collaborators is the resource sharing, sense of community and shared responsibilities among the entities.”

Dr. Montoya mentioned that limited budget can be a huge stumbling block for any R&D project. Therefore, building a partnership with the organizations who share the same cause is the best way to continue the project while taking full advantage of the available, but limited, resources.

He explained, “By sustaining and increasing our collaboration in our research initiatives and our revitalized efforts to promote research and development to address the major health concerns of the country, we would be able to maximize the use of our available resources.”

Progression of chronic hepatitis B (photo grabbed from hopkins.org)

Like any other diseases, understanding hepatitis B - its nature, symptom, transmission, prevention and management - is the best shield to prevent and manage the disease, said Dr. Gerald Belimac, program manager of the Department of Health’s National AIDS STI Prevention and Control Program.

Hepatitis B is a serious public health issue. In a phone interview, Dr. Belimac said, “Hepatitis B is 100 times more contagious than the AIDS virus. It is also the most common cause of liver infection leading to liver cancer - the principal cause of cancer death in many parts of Africa, Asia and the Pacific Region.”

Hepatitis B has two major stages of infection, the acute infection which occurs during the first six months of encounter with the disease and the chronic infection or severe hepatitis B infection.

Acute infection is bearable to healthy adults. According to the Hepatitis B Foundation, 90% of healthy adults are able to develop antibodies against HBV and become immuned to the disease during the acute hepatitis B infection stage. Unfortunately, this is not true for babies and young children. About 90% of babies and 50% of young children become chronic hepatitis B carriers.

Persons with chronic hepatitis B infection have greater risk of developing serious liver disease. According to the Hepatitis B Foundation, the disease is very dangerous because it shows limited or no symptoms. The person with chronic hepatitis B infection can even live for decades without having any symptoms, while the virus can quietly and continuously attack the liver which may lead to cirrhosis and eventually liver cancer.

Hepatitis B can be transmitted through contact with infected bodily fluids such as blood transfusion, unprotected sex, use of non-sterile needles, sharing of inanimate objects such as razors, toothbrushes, nail-clippers and earrings. It can also be transmitted through prenatal exposure to an infected mother, body piercing, tattooing and acupuncture.

Though everyone is at risk of getting hepatitis B, experts have identified individuals who have higher risks because of their job and life choices. These include healthcare workers, emergency personnel, residents and staff of jails and group homes, illicit drug users, people with multiple sex partners, people who get tattoos or body piercing and people with close contact to infected family members.

Certain medical conditions such as people with kidney disease or those who need kidney dialysis, people who need blood for medical reasons, and people diagnosed with sexually transmitted disease also have higher risks of getting infected with hepatitis B.

“At the moment, there is no complete cure for hepatitis B. Though there are treatments to reduce the progression of liver disease by slowing down the virus, there is no guarantee for the total removal of the virus,” said Dr. Belimac.

Vaccination is necessary to protect everyone, especially infants and children. However, vaccines are not for infected patients. They are designed to protect individuals not yet infected with the disease by helping the body develop antibodies against hepatitis B.

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Hepa B poster (Photo by eagron)

The Philippine Council for Health Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (PCHRD-DOST) conducted a seminar on “Code Yellow, Mission Against Hepatitis” to draw awareness on the dreadful disease on 30 January 2012.


“Yellow because patients with hepatitis usually manifest yellowish pigmentation of the skin. Code yellow means, we are exposing the information on hepatitis to increase the community’s awareness on the disease,” said Dr. Lemuel Delos Reyes, General Medicine practitioner and Hepatitis B Awareness Campaign advocate during the seminar.

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, most commonly caused by a viral infection. The disease has five different types, hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.

Hepatitis A and E are typically caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B, C and D usually occur as a result of parenteral contact with infected body fluids. Common modes of transmission include receipt of contaminated blood or blood transfusion, sexual intercourse, sharing of inanimate objects such as wash cloth, towels, toothbrushes, razors, among others. The disease can also be transmitted through prenatal exposure to an infected mother.

Acute infection may occur with limited or no symptoms. Among the symptoms include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark or “tea-like” urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and loss of appetite.

The disease is a serious public health issue because it is highly contagious and easily transmitted. It is also of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death it cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread.

According to the Hepatitis B Foundation Institute for Hepatitis and Virus Research, More than 2 billion people worldwide have been infected by hepatitis B Virus (HBV) and 1 million people die each year.

In the Philippines, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 60 percent of Filipinos have been infected with HBV while approximately 10 percent of Filipinos have chronic or active Hepatitis–B and are virus carriers. “This means that there are already around 8-10 million Hepatitis-B carriers in the country who might infect more people,” revealed Dr. Delos Reyes.

“We are all at risk. Though the disease has no cure yet, it is highly preventable,” said Dr. Delos Reyes.

Aside from proper hygiene and sanitation, vaccination is an important way to prevent the disease. “Vaccination is the easiest and most logical means of preventing the disease. It is also recognized as the most effective and long term means of preventing hepatitis,” said Dr. Delos Reyes.


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