With the leadership of Philippines and Singapore, ASEAN member states will collaborate for the first multi-country regional study on COVID-19 serosurveillance among the ASEAN population by September this year.
In line with ongoing vaccination efforts, the study will probe the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in seroconversion or the process of generating antibodies as a protection against viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2. The study also aims to provide evidence-based understanding on the prevalence of COVID-19 reinfection after seroconversion.
”By conducting a serosurveillance study, we will be able to analyze how effective our vaccination programs are going,” Department of Science and Technology - Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) Executive Director Dr. Jaime C. Montoya says. “This will help us assess thelevel of immunity or protection that the COVID-19 vaccines can provide to the recipients, and identify for how long this immunity will last,” he adds.
The study will recruit 200 participants from each participating country based on an inclusion and exclusion criteria. Data gathered from the study will serve as inputs in crafting public health strategies to help contain the spread of COVID-19, such as recommendations for the administration of booster shots for high risk groups including healthcare workers.
Funding for the project is expected to come from the ASEAN S&T Innovation Fund (ASTIF), its dialogue partners and other international funders. To support the implementation of the project in their respective countries, Singapore and the Philippines through DOST-PCHRD will also contribute to the funding.
The regional project will be led and co-led by Dr. Kristine de la Cruz of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and Dr. Linfa Wang of Duke-NUS Medical School. The ASEAN Network for Drugs, Diagnostics, Vaccines and Traditional Medicines Innovation (ASEAN-NDI) and the DxD Hub Singapore will coordinate and oversee its regional implementation. Other participating countries include Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Aside from this project, the region will also collaborate for the ASEAN COVID Genomics Project which will focus on virus strains detected in the region. This study will be led by Malaysia and Singapore.
Virgin coconut oil supports faster recovery from signs and symptoms of COVID-19, based on a study funded by the Department of Science and Technology- Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD).
The project entitled “The Beneficial Effects of Virgin Coconut Oil among Suspect and Probable Cases of COVID-19,” led by Dr. Imelda Angeles-Agdeppa of the DOST- Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI), conducted a community trial in Sta. Rosa City that evaluated the effects of VCO as an adjunct supplement for COVID-19 by mixing VCO into the cooked meals of suspect and probable COVID-19 cases. In previous studies, VCO has been proven to contain compounds with anti-viral properties.
According to the National Institutes of Health, an adjunct supplement is a secondary treatment used to support or assist the primary treatment given to a patient.
The community trial was completed last October 2020 and showed that individuals who received the VCO added in their meals experienced faster recovery from the signs and symptoms of COVID-19. These results suggest that there is a high possibility to use VCO as an adjunct supplement for suspect and probable COVID-19 cases due to its anti-viral properties.
“These results are proof of our significant progress on the quest to look for accessible, safe, and effective interventions that support COVID-19 recovery. Through these efforts, the DOST-PCHRD hopes to lessen the health burdens of COVID-19 among Filipinos,” said DOST-PCHRD Executive Director Jaime Montoya.
While interim results provide favorable evidence, researchers emphasize that additional confirmatory studies should be done to determine the effectiveness of VCO as an adjunct supplement for COVID-19. Currently, the Valenzuela trials are still ongoing with 17 graduated participants and 12 ongoing participants. The project team is also coordinating with Muntinlupa City as an additional study site that will include participants with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 which were not covered in the first two study sites.
“Our very own researchers and experts are capable of producing world-class innovations and solutions,” Department of Science and Technology Undersecretary for Research and Development Rowena Cristina Guevara said in her closing remarks during the online Talakayang HeaRT Beat press conference held last May 17, 2021 via Zoom.
Now on its 5th installment, Usec. Guevara highlights that the event was organized for the media to have “a platform of conversation with scientists, researchers and experts in health.”
From left to right, starting from the top row: DOST Secretary Fortunato T. dela Pena, Dr. Fresthel Monica Climacosa, DOST Usec. Rowena Cristina Guevara, Dr. Cynthia Palmes-Saloma, Dr. Fabian Dayrit, Mr. Arcelio Fetizanan Jr., Dr. Benedit Maralit, Dr. Raul Destura, DOST-PCHRD Executive Director Dr. Jaime C. Montoya, DOST-Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) Director Dr. Imelda Angeles-Agdeppa
DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña provided updates on some COVID-19 projects for diagnostics, public health surveillance and therapeutics supported by the DOST - Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD):
Dr. Raul Destura of the Manila HealthTek Inc. together with his team from the University of the Philippines Manila - National Institutes of Health (UPM-NIH), developed the GenAmplify™ CoronaVirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19) rRT-PCR Detection Kit. With high specificity and efficiency, the first-locally developed diagnostic kit for COVID-19 is now approved by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for commercial use, at a much lower price than its foreign counterparts in the market.
To date, a total of 1,301 GenAmplify rRT-PCR Detection Kits were manufactured and delivered for free to 22 hospitals and laboratories inside and outside Metro Manila.
Development of Swab Testing Stations
Inspired by the innovative phone-booth style testing stations from neighboring countries, the DOST-PCHRD and the DOST-Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD) supported the development and distribution of the specimen collection booths (SCBs) designed by the Futuristic Aviation and Maritime Enterprise, Inc. (FAME) through the leadership of Mr. Arcelio Fetizanan Jr..
The SCBs are designed with a transparent front window, ventilation, and caster wheels for easier mobility, which will help minimize the risk of infection among healthcare workers who collect the samples for testing. A total of 132 SCBs, equally co-funded by PCHRD and PCIEERD, are already deployed to DOH-identified testing centers across Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
Biosurveillance of COVID-19 in the Philippines through Whole Genome Sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 from Patients
Leveraging omic technologies, Dr. Benedict Maralit of the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) led the study on genome sequencing of COVID-19 viral samples. The study will provide a comprehensive picture of the spread of the disease in the country, and will help identify the source country of the virus, type or strain as well as related cases.
Through the project supported by the DOST-PCHRD and DOH and conducted in cooperation with the DOH Epidemiology Bureau and the IATF Technical Working Group on COVID-19 variants, a total of 6,423 samples have been analyzed and sequenced, which also contributed to the classification of the P.3 variant first detected in the Central Visayas Region. By providing a better understanding of the spread of the virus, the project will contribute to the development of evidence-informed policies and programs which will help contain and manage the disease.
In vitro Study on the Efficacy of Lauric Acid and Derivatives against SARS-CoV-2
Led by Dr. Fabian Dayrit of the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), the project evaluated the efficacy of virgin coconut oil (VCO) compounds against COVID-19 in vitro, in line with previous literature reporting its antiviral properties.
This study found that VCO has the ability to decrease the amount of virus in low viral concentrations and to destroy the virus. With the need to validate this in the clinical setting, the DOST is already supporting the conduct of clinical trials on VCO as an adjunct therapy against COVID-19.
The Effects of Virgin Coconut Oil among Suspect and Probable Cases of COVID-19
Implemented by the DOST-Food and Nutrition Institute (FNRI) through the leadership of Dr. Imelda-Angeles Agdeppa, the project aims to determine the safety and efficacy of VCO as adjunctive therapy for COVID cases.
Interim results of the clinical trials show that mixing VCO in meals of patients can reduce COVID-19 symptoms, which in turn may prevent the progression of the disease, with five out of 29 patients showing immediate response to the VCO intervention. Recruitment for participants is still ongoing.
In recognition of the significant achievement of the projects, Sec. de la Pena also highlighted the efforts and contributions of Filipino researchers to the country’s pandemic response: “Allow me to express my gratitude to our Filipino researchers who are tirelessly working in the frontlines to help us fight this pandemic. We, at the DOST, are committed to support you in using your expertise to serve our Filipino people through scientific research,” he said.
“These are only examples of our initiatives, and we still have more in the pipeline,” Usec. Guevara emphasized. “But what these show us, is that our very own researchers and experts are capable of producing world-class innovations and solutions. We, at the DOST, believe in that capacity, and we commit to continue working for an enabling environment for research and development,” she said.
The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Department of Health (DOH) will support a research which will look into the possibility of mixing and matching different COVID-19 vaccine brands and platforms through a study involving 3,000 Filipino participants starting June 2021.
“Ideally, an individual should complete two doses of vaccine using the same vaccine product. However, we cannot ignore the existing shortage in the global vaccine supply, which may interfere with the vaccine distribution and administration in the Philippines. It is urgently needed to ascertain the interchangeability of COVID-19 vaccines, as administering the second dose of vaccines with a two-dose regimen is vital in inducing the needed level of protection against the virus,” said DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña.
Aiming to determine the safety and analyze the immune response of individuals whose first dose is followed by a second dose of a different vaccine platform, the mixed-dose study will offer clinical data that will provide basis for the DOH in developing guidelines on the vaccination rollout, and on which vaccine regimen may be applied for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) during situations of limited vaccine supply.
Pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and health research ethics board, the study expects to enroll participants aged 18 years or older situated in eight priority areas for vaccine rollout following DOH allocation and the COVAX facility guidelines.
Secretary de la Peña further emphasized that the mixed-dose approach, if proven safe and effective, will help address possible shortage of vaccine products as interchangeable use of vaccine brands or platforms will offer flexibility in the vaccination rollout.
While there are similar studies being conducted in other countries, this study will specifically make use of vaccines being used in the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program and generate data from the Filipino people mixing COVID-19 vaccines after the first Sinovac vaccine dose which uses the inactivated virus platform. To be implemented by the Philippine Society for Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (PSAAI), with Dr. Michelle De Vera as the lead, the study will run for 18 months in conjunction with the vaccination rollout using the available vaccine supply in the Philippines.#
To strengthen partnership in implementing eHealth solutions for universal health care (UHC), the Department of Science and Technology - Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD), Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) Institute of Philippine Culture (IPC), and the Pangasinan Provincial Health Office (PHO) signed a memorandum of understanding last 7 May 2021 in a virtual ceremony.
Having previously worked together on eHealth projects, the AdMU IPC and the Pangasinan PHO formalized another partnership through the Local Government Unit-mandated eHealth Networked Services for Universal Health Care (UHC LeHNS) project led by Dr. Dennis Batangan from the AdMU IPC.
With the reforms on health information systems under UHC, the UHC LeHNS aims to assist local government units in implementing eHealth solutions for health systems management and health service delivery at their level. Dr. Marian Luz Vilchez, the vice president for Loyola Schools, emphasized the importance of such projects in achieving good outcomes in health policies. “Forging partnerships with local government units is a way to concretize policy ideals and get them tested on the ground to effect greater sustainability,” she said.
One of the major reforms under the UHC is the set-up of province and city-wide health systems which aims to empower LGUs in the delivery of healthcare to communities. This shift calls for the integration of eHealth in the LGU level. “eHealth is actually lodged or located under the governance pillar of universal health care,” Dr. Batangan explained. The UHC LeHNS will support Pangasinan PHO through two project components: 1) the development of local health information systems, and 2) the integration of UHC-relevant concepts in AdMU IPC’s eTURO learning system which includes modules, webinars, and trainings for health workers.
In his opening remarks, DOST-PCHRD Executive Director emphasized the impact of the project on the implementation of UHC in Pangasinan communities, “It is important to implement universal health care in order to safeguard the health of Filipino people by providing efficient and adequate resources, and ensuring the sustainability of health programs and learning initiatives by using modern technology in order to reach Filipinos even at the grassroots level,” he said.
The memorandum of understanding was signed by Dr. Maria Luz Vilches, representing the AdMU, and Atty. Nimrod Camba and Dr. Anna Ma. Teresa De Guzman, representing the Provincial Health Office of Pangasinan.