The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) commends the performance of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and its attached agencies for attaining its targets and major outputs despite the limitations brought by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Of the 19 DOST agencies, DBM lauded the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) for achieving all its performance indicators committed for 2020 with an accomplishment rate of 100% to 377%, and for attaining an almost 100% budget utilization rate.

The government appreciates the efforts of DOST in delivering its commitments in terms of the performance indicators, particularly for being an active agency in curbing the effects of the virus through its scientific intervention in medicine as well as its promotion of a better-designed, well-prepared programs and projects for the agency,” said DBM Undersecretary Tina Rose Marie L. Canda in a DBM summary report sent to DOST.

In 2020, the Council supported 36 research and development (R&D) projects implemented in response to COVID-19 and maintained its support to 138 ongoing research projects under its nine R&D priority areas, of which 22 have completed implementation in the said year. The  Council also welcomed a total of 332 R&D research proposals, where 46 new projects were approved for funding and implementation.

In terms of capacity building, PCHRD has supported 53 MD-PhD in Molecular Medicine scholars in 2020, welcomed 12 new Balik Scientists, and approved 22 projects in addition to the 37 ongoing projects being supported under its Regional Research Fund Program. More so, the Council also provided important inputs to 17 legislations, filed 76 intellectual property applications, and co-organized 40 health-related webinars, among many of its information, communication, and technology transfer services.

Our ultimate goal as the country’s lead coordinating body for health research has always been the same for the last three decades: to make life better for the Filipinos through health research-based solutions and innovations. We thank the DBM for recognizing our efforts to address the needs of our country’s health system amid major crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic. We share this recognition with our Filipino researchers, partners, and stakeholders who strive to create research-based solutions to our pressing health needs,” said PCHRD Executive Director Jaime C. Montoya.

The DBM report also highlighted that DOST supported a total of 1,267 projects in 2020, out of its target of 954 projects, and all agencies surpassed their targets including PCHRD with 207 projects implemented under the Grants-In-Aid (GIA) program. DBM also reports that all DOST agencies posted “very impressive” obligation rates under their operations.

I believe that we have accomplished much more than what the financial and physical performance indicators present. We have put in place pioneering and strategic programs that respond to national problems particularly the COVID-19 pandemic. Our interventions have long and enduring positive impacts on the economic development, poverty reduction, and social transformation as affirmed by our various clients and stakeholders,” said DOST Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña.

The physical performance is measured in terms of the outcome and output performance indicators committed in the Performance Informed Budget for FY 2020, while the financial performance is measured in terms of budget utilization rate both in obligation and disbursement and income performance.

The Department of Science and Technology- Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD), University of the Philippines Manila (UP Manila), and the Fondazione Italiana Fegato (FIF), signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) last August 18, 2021, to formalize the parties’ commitment to advance liver research in the Philippines.

According to data from the World Health Organization 2018, liver disease accounts for 7,491 or 1.23% of total deaths in the Philippines. “It is an opportune time to realize and to reiterate the state of the Philippines in terms of liver health and why this collaboration and these actions we are taking are just as crucial in improving the lives of our countrymen,” DOST-PCHRD Executive Director Jaime Montoya said as he highlighted liver diseases as a persistent health concern in the country.

What to expect
An offshoot of the existing cooperation between the DOST-PCHRD and FIF, this tripartite partnership will promote joint research efforts and capacity-building initiatives on liver research both for Filipino and Italian researchers.  One of the core outputs to be expected is the organization of the Philippine Liver Network composed of Filipino academic and research institutions. “The network will become the natural hub in which the collaboration between the Foundation, DOST, and UP Manila will be harbored,” said FIF President Decio Ripandelli, emphasizing the importance of the network in enabling sustainable liver research in the country. 

Under the MOU, the DOST-PCHRD is tasked to oversee the initiatives to be undertaken by the cooperating parties. As one of the country’s premier institutions on research, UP Manila is mandated to lead the conduct of R&D efforts aligned with the objectives of the program. Lastly, the FIF, a leading institution in the field of translational research in liver diseases, will be sharing its expertise in establishing liver disease research programs with its Philippine counterparts. 

The program will explore the application of various fields of research such as OMICS technologies, animal and non-animal models for liver diseases, and artificial intelligence in the context of liver disease. UP Manila through Chancellor Carmencita Padilla expressed the institution’s anticipation for the expected outputs of the program. “We envision to promote multidisciplinary investigations of liver health and disease. We look forward to novel treatment approaches. We look forward to more cutting-edge care for liver diseases and clinical trials,” she said.

What has been done
Various initiatives have been launched to jumpstart the partnership’s activities according to Dr. Janus Ong, lead of the liver research program in the Philippines. As a result of the partnership between the DOST-PCHRD and FIF back in 2019, four Filipino researchers are currently undergoing a fellowship program focused on molecular hepatology at the University of Trieste, Italy. Dr. Ripandelli commended the work of the Filipino fellows who were able to produce at least five publications in international peer-reviewed journals in the past year.

In 2020, the liver research agenda was formulated in collaboration with the Alliance for Improving Health Outcomes (AIHO) which will guide liver research strategies to be undertaken in the future.  As of August 2021, research proposals are already in the pipeline which will be submitted to the DOST-PCHRD and UP Manila for funding support. 


The City Government of Cagayan de Oro pushes forward with its response to the government’s call for Universal Health Care with its Smarter and Integrated Local Health Information System for Cagayan de Oro City (SmILHIS CDOC) Project. The SmILHIS CDOC Project will integrate the eHATID LGU (eHealth TABLET for Informed Decision-Making of Local Government Units) application, which will aid CDOC’s City-Wide Health System in gathering and storing data from patients and generating reports for the Department of Health (DOH) and the Philippine Health Insurance (PhilHealth).
 


eHATID LGU 


The eHATID LGU technology, developed by the Ateneo de Manila University’s Institute of Philippine Culture (AdMU IPC) and supported by the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD), is an electronic medical record (EMR) system that can be accessed offline by LGUs, regional health units (RHUs), and other government entities who have signed up for the service. 

Since its inception in 2012, the application aims to improve patient data management, doing away with the clutter and redundancies of paper-based records systems and allowing RHUs to input their data electronically even without the internet. The EMR system also provides RHUs and LGUs with health data analytics and a mayor-doctor communication system that may assist local governments and their healthcare institutions in making informed decisions before implementing health programs. 

Other than the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, the eHATID LGU technology taps other DOST agencies like the Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI)’s cloud and research service, COARE (Computing and Archiving Research Environment), for its database and the Technology Adoption and Promotion Institute (TAPI) for the EMR system’s distribution to LGUs through its Technology Innovation for Commercialization (TECHNiCOM) Program.


Empowering Cagayan de Oro City’s Health System through eHATID LGU 


In February 2019, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte signed R.A. 11223 or the Universal Health Care Act which aims to “(e)nsure that all Filipinos are guaranteed equitable access to quality and affordable health care goods and services… .” In keeping with the intentions of this Act, which also pushes for better performance in the healthcare system, CDOC sent a letter of intent to AdMU IPC to become a part of the eHATID 2 Interoperability Layer, and a non-exclusive limited license for the use of the eHATID LGU technology was granted to them in 2019. 

But the journey to full compliance with the Universal Health Care Act does not stop at receiving the tablet. 

For CDOC to fulfil the objectives of R.A. 11223, the city requires an overhaul of their existing health care system. 

TECHNiCOM first assisted in transitioning the eHATID LGU’s business model to one that better supports the National eHealth Program (NeHP) and R.A. 100055, or the Philippine Technology Transfer Act of 2009. The new model packages eHATID LGU’s EMR as a ‘Software as a Service’ product that caters to public and private health facilities. 

Meanwhile, the City Government of Cagayan de Oro, together with AdMU IPC, initiated an interoperability layer (IOL) prototype for the city’s health records management system, which led to the inception of the SmILHIS CDOC Project. 

With the eHATID LGU system at its core and the help of its collaborators— DOST – PCHRD, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), and the University of the Philippines – Department of Computer Science—the City Government of Cagayan de Oro is currently planning to enhance the existing electronic health systems of the city to facilitate health information-sharing among local institutions. From the signing of the memorandum of agreement for the project on September 2020 to May 2021, the SmILHIS CDOC Technical Working Group conducted researches and lectures as they built the framework that would make the development of the SmILHIS CDOC system possible. 


Local Health Information Exchange (LHIE) for Universal Health Care: The Cagayan de Oro City Update 


On August 20, 2021, the SmILHIS CDOC team will report on the progress of the project and will sign an Executive Order drafted by the City Government of Cagayan de Oro and AdMU IPC that enables the creation of a governing body within the government of CDOC which oversees the implementation of the IOL and ensures that it operates adhering to international standards and to local and national laws and policies on eHealth and data privacy.

In addition to the Executive Order, a reaffirmation document authored by the CDOC government and AdMU IPC highlighting their commitment to achieving Universal Health Care for the citizens of CDO will also be signed during the event.

The event will be held online via Zoom and will be streamed through the DOST - TAPI Facebook page at 4:30 in the afternoon. The event is open to the public. Those who wish to join through the Zoom event may register through this link:  https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_-CJo-gxZRiOaVdH03dOHcw




It was a rainy Tuesday morning and the day seemed gloomier with the reimposition of the Enhanced Community Quarantine on the National Capital Region due to increasing Delta variant cases in the country, but Secretary Fortunato de la Peña and Dr. Montoya beamed as they repeatedly introduced Dr. Ruby Anne King and Dr. John Carlo Malabad to everyone during their first official appearance in front of the DOST community.

Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) Executive Director Dr. Jaime Montoya called them the new stars of PCHRD during the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) Town Hall Meeting on the COVID-19 Delta Variant, and there could not have been a more opportune time to introduce PCHRD’s new doctor-scientists.

A few months before joining PCHRD as Assistant Scientists, Dr. King and Dr. Malabad worked on COVID-19, not as attending physicians but as scientists who dealt with the virus itself.


THE WINDING ROAD TO BECOMING DOCTOR-SCIENTISTS


Doc Ruby and Doc JC were part of the first batch of doctor-scientists in the MD-PhD in Molecular Medicine program of the University of the Philippines Manila (UPM), one of the many scholarship programs that DOST – PCHRD supports, but a career in biomedicine was not what they initially had in mind.

“I didn’t really plan to specialize in Molecular Medicine,” Doc Ruby said, and truth be told, she did not know the program existed before. At a young age, Doc Ruby already knew she wanted to become a doctor, a dream which her family supported wholeheartedly, and it was on her journey to becoming a medical practitioner that she was introduced to the world of research and eventually, Molecular Medicine. “I appreciated the rigor of conducting research and how it could truly make a difference in the lives of people,” She shared, and she cited her undergraduate professors as her inspiration. However, she thought that there would be very few opportunities to do research in medical school, that is, of course, until she heard of the MD-PhD scholarship program upon her admission to UPM. “I had great difficulty at first, but as I spent more time in the program, I realized more and more the value of molecular medicine in the clinical conditions that we were learning about in medical school and in the hospital.” And it was then that her appreciation for the field of Molecular Medicine grew.

Like Doc Ruby, Doc JC also dreamed of becoming a doctor, but he found his love for research somewhere else. “When I did my undergraduate thesis at IRRI, I enjoyed research and working in the lab so much.” Rarely does research come into mind among the youth when it comes to choosing a career path, but because of his experience at IRRI, Doc JC told himself that if his dream to study at the UPM College of Medicine did not come true, then he would readily pursue a career in research and teaching. “But God is so good,” he said. “He got me admitted to my dream med school.” And to Doc JC, his PhD and the DOST scholarship were the cherries on top of this blessing.

As they dove deeper into the field of Molecular Medicine, they slowly zeroed in on their research interests. Doc JC is passionate about Tuberculosis (TB) research. Whether it be for treatment or epidemiologic studies on TB, he finds all these aspects worth exploring. Doc Ruby, on the other hand, has her sights set on translational immunology, or the process of converting information from immunological research into practical human solutions. She wanted to explore how the immune system could be optimized or modulated to combat infectious diseases like TB and COVID-19 and discover techniques and methods for modelling and evaluating diseases and disease patterns “in silico, in vitro, and in vivo” (through computational approaches, through the controlled lab experiments, and through the study of the specimen as it is within the living organism).


THE APOMEDIATOR


DOST – PCHRD played a silent hand in guiding the two new Assistant Scientists towards a career in Molecular Medicine. Apart from the stipend and incentives they were given through the scholarship, the program also provided Doc Ruby and Doc JC opportunities for career and character growth. Under the MD – PhD program, they were mentored by brilliant professors who not only gave valuable insights but also allowed them to assist in their projects and were able to participate in scientific conferences which opened doors to forming networks with researchers from institutions in and out of the Philippines.

Beyond the scholarship, Doc Ruby and Doc JC also participated in DOST’s Career Incentive Program (CIP), which they both enjoyed. Doc JC spent a year as a Supervising Science Research Specialist in his alma mater, UPM College of Medicine, a stint that greatly appealed to him as it brought all his interests in medicine, research, and teaching together.

Doc Ruby’s CIP experience at the Biomedical Innovations Research for Translational Health Science (BIRTHS) Laboratory was just as memorable for her. In fact, her interest in translational immunology was birthed in that very laboratory. Under Professor Salvador Eugenio Caoili’s tutelage, she began working on translational research aimed at immunological processes that address human health conditions. COVID-19 hit during her stay at BIRTHS and she was able to experience firsthand how all the techniques they have been optimizing in the laboratory were applied to detecting and producing antibodies against COVID-19. “It was through the funding of DOST – PCHRD that we were able to initiate the implementation of these projects,” she added.

Both Doc Ruby and Doc JC acknowledge that it was DOST that opened their eyes to the possibilities and opportunities that biomedical research provides to scientists, a perspective that they have not been given when they were still undergraduate students.


Molecular Medicine may be an unknown field to the general public, but the two doctor-scientists were able to see, through the program, how important this field of science is to improving the lives of Filipinos, COVID-19 being the obvious real-life implication they both cite, and their specific interests within the field reflect their answers.
“Molecular Medicine helps us understand disease mechanisms better, and our knowledge and understanding of these lead us to develop rapid and accurate diagnostic tests and more effective strategies for disease prevention and control. For example, the development of molecular tests or kits to diagnose dengue, TB, and COVID-19 has helped us in the early detection of these diseases, which in turn, led to timely management of our patients,” Doc JC said. Doc Ruby, on the other hand, easily gave immunization as an example. “One of the most identifiable real-life examples of how Molecular Medicine makes the lives of Filipinos better are the COVID-19 vaccines. The relative speed at which the vaccines were developed and studied was made possible largely due to years of molecular medicine research on SARS CoV. These vaccines confer protection against hospitalization and death from COVID-19 and are safe and effective.” She also mentioned that techniques in Molecular Medicine can be used to identify underlying mechanisms of particular diseases in the Philippines and why our people are predisposed to them. One of these techniques is biomarking, which is also one of Doc JC’s interests albeit with a focus on TB.

These specific interests were further highlighted in the COVID-19-related work they’ve done prior to joining PCHRD. Dr. King worked on cell-based vaccine and cellular therapeutics research while she worked in the Subnational Laboratory for Emerging and Re-emerging Diseases at the Lung Center of the Philippines. Dr. Malabad, meanwhile, worked as a COVID-19 responder and a volunteer laboratorian at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine COVID-19 testing facility.


NEXT STEPS



Doc JC was honest when he was asked what encouraged him to work with PCHRD. “I really enjoyed my previous work in the academe as a physician-researcher …. The compensation was good, but it was contractual.” He shared, “As my family’s breadwinner, I desire for a more stable job, and the position that I have right now is nothing but perfect for what I was praying for because I can still do research work and it’s a permanent item.” Outside of research, Doc JC is still able to provide services as a volunteer physician and double as a radio anchor at his church, the Cathedral of Praise Manila. He is also a member of DOST and Department of Health-led biosafety committees.

Doc Ruby, on the other hand, cites Dr. Montoya as her influencer. “Dr. Jaime Montoya has always been very supportive of the MD-PhD program and his team have constantly been presenting to us various activities where we could potentially be involved.” She said this was instrumental in her decision to join PCHRD because she saw through his and PCHRD’s efforts that there is still more work to be done. In addition, she saw it as an opportunity not only for personal growth but to serve the country and different communities through scientific research, collaboration, and communication.



As Assistant Scientists, they expect to help in research planning and project management and monitoring. Doc JC also added that they will help in the research information, communication, and dissemination initiatives of the Council; strengthening the research capability of the country’s regional health research and development consortia; and fostering international research collaborations with other institutions abroad. “[But] of course in this time of the pandemic, we are involved in COVID-19 research and review of evidence/literature.” Doc Ruby stated, “There are a multitude of research questions to tackle and misconceptions to correct when it comes to COVID-19 and we hope to help in coming up with answers that are scientifically sound and validated.”

Beyond COVID-19, the doctor-scientists also wish to work on research in their specific fields of interest: Doc Ruby on translational immunology and Doc JC on TB. However, Doc Ruby believes that there is no disease entity or condition that can be dismissed and that bringing lesser known diseases or research topics to light is crucial as there will be communities that will benefit from them. In addition, Doc Ruby also wishes to contribute in capacity building for health scientists in the country and bridging the gap between science research and clinical applications among clinicians. As for Doc JC, he said he looks forward to applying the knowledge he gained from university and his experiences as physician-researcher to help the Council accomplish its mandate and help improve health R&D in the country.


THE HARVEST IS PLENTY BUT THE LABORERS ARE FEW



The Philippine Institute of Development Studies foresees a professional drought in the life science, physical science, maths, statistics, and engineering sectors by 2025, an offshoot of the current interest in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) among the youth and the oversupply of ICT professionals in the country. Which explains Secretary de La Peña’s and Dr. Montoya’s excitement at the arrival of the two young doctor-scientists. 

As Doc Ruby and Doc JC provided the DOST community with information on the Delta variant and the measures to be taken to prevent the spread of the virus, they imbued the Town Hall meeting with much needed youthful energy.


“We need more researchers and scientists in our land.” Doc JC answered when asked what he would say to young Filipinos. “Those who will help our leaders come up with science-based/evidence-based policies that would make the lives of Filipinos better.” Doc Ruby added that there is a wealth of scientific data to be discovered in the country. They both conceded, though, that a career in the sciences is never easy. Research conditions are far from perfect and those pursuing this path would have to constantly remind themselves of their purpose, but they both hold on to hope that the research environment in the Philippines will eventually get better.

Doc JC had this to say to young Filipinos who are interested in taking up a career in the sciences: “We can make a difference with what we have now while we continue to strive and fight for a more conducive and enabling research environment in the country. Join us in this endeavor, and together let’s make science and technology work for the Filipino people.”


“Making Medical Procurement Easy.”

This is what Medhyve, a Filipino-owned startup focusing on digital procurement, promises to the Filipino people.

Seeing how Level 1 and 2 hospitals in provincial areas struggle with complicated and inefficient procurement processes, Mr. Nigel Lirio, chief executive officer of Medhyve, along with Mr. Gabriel Henry Lopez as chief technology officer and Ms. Elle Quan as chief marketing officer, launched the company to offer a platform for simpler and more convenient procurement of medical supplies. The main features of Medhyve include AI canvassing or smart product recommendations for healthcare providers, a digitized procurement process, and direct-to-brand- pricing on the platform.

With the pandemic driving industries to transfer most of their operations online, the role of Medhyve in the health industry is further emphasized. Not only does it enable a completely digitized procurement of medical supplies, it is also able to simplify and speed up the task and make an originally 2-4 week process possible in a few steps.

It currently carries more than 100 suppliers and 3000 products online and aims to further improve its services to help more facilities provide quality healthcare to Filipinos.

With funding from the Department of Science and Technology- Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) under the Startup Research Grant program, the company is set to introduce artificial intelligence (AI) into the platform’s features with “Medhyve Intelligence.” This provides users with a suite of AI-powered procurement tools and dashboards that will enable more efficient procurement for hospital staff. The development of the technology will be based on data gathered on the existing procurement practices in chosen hospitals allowing the team to generate evidence-based solutions and improvements to their current services.

“The project is really based on improving the procurement speed and making efficient spending for these hospitals through AI,” CTO and Project Leader Gabriel Lopez said, sharing how Medhyve Intelligence can make administrative processes in the health industry more cost-efficient.

Medhyve is one of the three pioneering grantees of the DOST-PCHRD's Startup Research Grant launched in December 2020 to encourage research and development in the startup industry. To know more about their mission and services, visit: www.medhyve.com