Even today, the “valley of death” remains to be a pressing challenge in research, which pertains to the difficulty of bringing research outputs to the market. Of which, the field of biomedical engineering and health technologies is no exception.

To help researchers overcome this daunting challenge, the DOST-PCHRD in partnership with the De La Salle University’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Health Technologies (DLSU-IBEHT) launched the CAPACITA project (Capacity Building for Researchers, Inventors and Technology Transfer Personnel Commercializing Biomedical Devices and Health Technologies), which aims to equip researchers, inventors and technology transfer officers with the knowledge and skills necessary for commercialization.

Focusing on specific issues concerning the industry of biomedical engineering and health technologies, the CAPACITÀ Project aims to delve into topics relating to clinical trials, government regulatory requirements, and ethical questions concerning commercialization, among others. 

The project will follow a two-year plan:

Year 1: In preparation for the implementation, the team will conduct a needs-assessment survey and study for the development of resource materials, course of trainings and workshops. The conduct of the study will ensure that the capacity building activities will accommodate the needs of the field in terms of commercialization.

Year 2: Implementation of the trainings and workshops in partnership with different institutions.

There are very few capacity building programs in the field which aims to fill this gap [in commercialization]. This project is unique because it focuses on biomedical engineering and health technologies,” CAPACITA Project Leader and Director of the DLSU Intellectual Property Office (DIPO) Atty. Christopher Cruz says. “Our goal is to positively impact the society, and we will take pride in the fact that we did it in spite of the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic posed,” he added.

The CAPACITA project is one of the newly-approved projects launched by the IBEHT during its virtual kick-off event last March 26, 2021. The project team already started the implementation of Year 1 of the project last September 2020.

Working at the forefront of research and innovation on biomedical devices for health in the country, the De La Salle University - Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Health Technologies (DLSU-IBEHT) launched five newly-approved projects during its virtual kick-off event last March 26, 2021.

Approved for support and funding by the Department of Science and Technology - Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) the five new projects will address all three areas under the IBEHT framework, namely: R&D activities, support systems, and capacity building. 

1. The AGAPAY Project aims to develop a 3D printed wearable robot biomimetically designed to account for all the movements of the upper limbs, which will provide post-stroke and injured patients with a cost-efficient and high performance rehabilitation system. Now on its third phase, the study aims to demonstrate  the technology’s safety, feasibility, and effectiveness on healthy human participants. Also, the project will establish and develop testing protocols while taking into consideration existing international standards for its therapy program. This project is lead by Dr. Renann Baldovino, Associate Professor at the Manufacturing Engineering and Management Department of the Gokongwei College of Engineering, De La Salle University.

2. The LAPARA Project will develop a laparoscopic instrument that aims to improve maneuverability and ease of use for surgeons while undergoing laparoscopic surgery. Currently on its second phase, the team aims to have the prototype certified for the overall safety of its mechanical, electrical, and electromagnetic design, based on international and local regulations and standards. After obtaining the certifications and ethical clearance required, the team will move to test its overall performance during surgical operations under ideal conditions. This project will be implemented under the leadership of Dr. Nilo Bugtai, DLSU-IBEHT Director and a Full Professor at the Manufacturing Engineering and Management Department of the Gokongwei College of Engineering, De La Salle University.

3. The TAYÔ Project seeks to create a technology that will allow the restoration of the needed range of motion, regaining of strength and the recovery of the patient's ability to stand. Moving forward to the second stage of research, the device will undergo rigorous performance and reliability tests to conform to local and international safety and compliance standards. The device will then be tested in a controlled environment using healthy human participants to further prove its safety and effectiveness. Now on its second phase, the project will be implemented under the supervision of Dr. Armyn Sy, Associate Professor at the Manufacturing Engineering and Management Department of the Gokongwei College of Engineering, De La Salle University.

4. The CAPACITA Project addresses the gaps in bringing research to commercialization. The project targets to enable and equip researchers, inventors, technology transfer officers, and related personnel with the skills and knowledge in the commercialization of biomedical engineering and health technologies. Following a two-year plan, the project will focus on the development and implementation of training, workshops, resource materials, exhibit fairs, and industry immersion. The project is led by Atty. Christopher Cruz, IP Director, ITSO Manager, and Legal Counsel of De La Salle University.

5. The KANDILI Project  aims to develop a competitive intellectual property management system that will effectively facilitate the commercialization of biomedical and health technology researches and efficiently transform government-funded research projects into products and services that serve the people for greater societal impact. The project intends to promote collaboration by conducting needs assessments among project teams, government, and various industry stakeholders to determine the gaps and barriers to a successful commercialization of biomedical devices and health technologies in the country and at the same time involve the government, the academe, and the industry in providing support for research teams in technology transfer . This project is implemented under the supervision of Ms. Pamela Raye Tadeo, De La Salle University’s Intellectual Property Officer.

Aside from these new projects, DLSU-IBEHT has an ongoing project with DOST-PCAARRD – the DOE Project – a project that aims to develop a wearable monitoring sensor that can be used to determine peak fertility to aid the process of goat artificial insemination.

In his welcome remarks, DOST-PCHRD Executive Director Dr. Jaime C. Montoya expressed his support to the projects, and emphasized the importance of advancing the field. “The lack of access to affordable medical devices has been identified as one of the challenges being faced by our healthcare system to date,” he says. “Our aim in the DOST-PCHRD is to strengthen the local capacity to produce our own health devices, and eventually prompt an environment where our researchers are able to aid our healthcare system through biomedical engineering,” he added.

IBEHT Director and Program Leader Dr. Nilo T. Bugtai also expressed his hopes for the projects and the Institute: "Manufacturing reliable, safe, easy to use and affordable biomedical devices developed by the Filipinos for Filipinos towards a healthier Filipino community and eventually, creating new industries for biomedical devices and equipment in the Philippines."

The Call for Proposals for the ASEAN-China Program on Public Health Emergency Preparedness Capacity (PROMPT) is now open!
This program is under the ASEAN-China Public Health Cooperation Initiative which focuses on enhancing regional preparedness capacity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and future public health emergencies. To support this goal, the ASEAN-China PROMPT Program will carry out capacity building activities, creation of information and data exchange, vaccine research and development, and provision of technical support to ASEAN institutions in public health emergency response.
The projects under the PROMPT Program shall support health policy objectives of ASEAN Member States and China, and contribute to closer inter-institutional connections and cooperation between ASEAN and China, which could be reflected by joint collaboration projects between health institutions and government agencies.
Projects under this Program shall also be able to deliver long-term and sustainable benefits based on explicit reference to design and implementation factors contributing to its sustainability.
  1. Government agencies or affiliated agencies, health or research institutions, universities from the ASEAN Member States may submit proposals. Partnerships between the ASEAN institutions and China are encouraged, during which a leading agency shall be identified as the project proponent and comply with the Rules of Procedure of Engagement of Entities with the ASEAN Health Sector if applicable.
  2. Proposals must use the template prescribed by the ASEAN Secretariat and go through ASEAN China Cooperation Fund (ACCF) project appraisal and approval process individually (templates may be downloaded here).
  3. For project proposals submitted with multi-year implementation of activities, it is recommended to have the initial activities be implemented within the first year, during which the outputs of initial activities will be evident and add value to the succeeding activities of the project proposal. 
  4. Budget of each project shall be evaluated based on the nature of the project and the project proposal on its own merit.
Any potential project proponent is advised to contact the focal points within the ASEAN  Secretariat and project officers of the ACCF Management Team before drafting and  submitting project proposals. Contact information is as follows: 
Project focal points:  
  1. Health Division from the ASEAN Secretariat, (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
  2. Mr. Gu Junjie, Programme Manager of the ACCF Management Team (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) / (62)813-18628589  
Copy furnish to:
  1. Mr. Marco Antonio R. Bautista, DOST, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  2. Mr. Zymar P. Bandola, DOST, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  3. DFA-ASEAN, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  4. Philippine Mission to ASEAN, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
This program is an open call and will be accepting proposals for projects with a duration between March 2021- February 2024. 

A new COVID-19 variant officially designated as Lineage “P.3” was detected in the Philippines on 10 March 2021 as reported by the Philippine Genome Center (PGC). The variant was found from local samples in Central Visayas, collected on the same dates where there was a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases recorded in the region.

What do we know so far?

  • P.3 is designated as a variant under investigation (VUI) and not yet identified as a variant of concern (VOC) by the Department of Health (DOH), as the current available data are not enough to conclude that it will have significant implications to public health. Public Health England has classified it as a VUI.
  • To date, there are 104 total infections caused by the P.3 variant in the Philippines, of which majority are detected in Central Visayas. Samples from the Philippines were collected in late January up to February 2, 2021, and the sequencing run was conducted on February 4, 2021 by the PGC.
  • The results reported by PGC indicate that P.3 is found to bear multiple mutations of concern in the spike protein region. In simple terms, there were multiple changes detected in the spike region of the P.3 variant, the part of the virus responsible for attaching to human cells, which may possibly have “functional significance” as reported by PGC.
  • These mutations, or changes detected in P.3. are identified as E484K, N501Y, and P681H. They have been previously associated with known COVID-19 variants linked to possible increased transmissibility and immune escape. There is still no proof, based on available data, that P.3 is more infectious than the original version of Sars-CoV-2, but the presence of these three mutations suggests that it is possible. 
  • There are NO reports that the P.3 variant leads to worse symptoms of COVID-19.

What does it tell us?

  • Although not classified as a VOC, PGC recommends strengthening measures to prevent the spread of P.3 to other regions in the Philippines and other countries due to the potential public health implications of these mutations.
  • Regardless if we are situated in Metro Manila or in the provinces, we must not stop or even minimize practicing the minimum public health standards. With the recent announcement of Enhanced Community Quarantine in Metro Manila, Rizal, Laguna, Cavite, and Bulacan, the DOH urges the public to stay at home unless extremely necessary and remember to avoid the three Cs (Closed spaces, Crowded places, and Close contact settings). 

What is DOST-PCHRD doing?

  • DOST-PCHRD initiated the funding and support for the biosurveillance studies of PGC on COVID-19 in the Philippines through the ARCHER Program. This support started six months ago, in October 2020, to aid current government efforts get a more comprehensive picture of the spread of the disease in the country. To date, the biosurveillance service of PGC is also being funded by the DOH.
  • DOST-PCHRD supports PGC’s recommendation to strengthen measures to prevent the spread of the P.3 variant to other regions and countries. So far, four, two, and one of each P.3 virus sequences have been submitted by the UK, Australia, Germany and Japan, respectively, in the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) database which has now more than 700,000 SARS-CoV-2 submitted sequences.
  • In the long term, the Council aims to aid the government in determining the dynamics of the spread of the disease throughout its course.
  • This health research effort aims to provide our policymakers guidance in future planning with regard to epidemics in the country. Collected data from this project will be part of a baseline for the country for improving our health disaster responses in the future.

Variants, strains, and mutations simplified

Although connected in several ways, the terms variants, strains, and mutations do not mean the same thing. In simple terms,

  • Even a virus commits errors in copying itself. When a virus makes copies of itself or duplicates inside our body, sometimes, there are letters in the genome that are not written correctly. As a result, there are copies that are not made exactly the same as the original version, and we call this mutation. Just like how mistakes are natural in people, mutations are also natural in viruses.
  • As a result of its error of not perfectly copying itself, this mutation changes the new copy’s genome. Take note that several mutations may exist in a single copy, and when this happens, a new variant of the virus occurs. 
  • A strain, on the other hand, simply refers to a subtype of a larger virus species but has different characteristics. For example, SARS-CoV-2 is a strain of the larger coronavirus family that causes respiratory infections, in the same way that MERS-CoV is also a strain of coronavirus.

With the upcoming Holy Week, everyone is encouraged to avoid large congregations and practice religious activities at home. It is always recommended to maintain social distance, wear masks when going outside, and wash hands frequently.

The Northern Mindanao Consortium for Health Research and Development (NorMinCoHRD) wins their third title as champions of the 3-Minute Pitch to Policymakers Competition through their representative, Dr. Gina Itchon from Xavier University with her pitch entitled, “The Web-GRID Project: Helping LGUs Make Better and Faster Decisions during Emergencies.”

The study of Dr. Itchon aims to integrate epidemiologic data with GEO spatial mapping for disasters. Driven by the desire to contribute solutions during the onslaught of the pandemic, she wants to develop a decision support tool which considered risk perspective and managed by the local government unit for immediate decision making. Ultimately, the tool will be used by the LGU in making executive decisions that is timely, sensible, scientific, and data-driven.

Coming in second place is Dr. Mary Joy Sande representing the Bicol region with her policy pitch entitled “Antenatal Care: Every Pregnant Mother's Right for Quality Care.” Third Place winner is Mr. Noriel P. Calaguas representing Central Luzon for the policy pitch entitled “9 Ways to Improve Gay and Bi-Men’s HIV Testing Rates.”

Dr. Bella P. Magnaye of the Lyceum University of the Philippines, representing Region 4A, bagged the People’s Choice Award for the policy pitch entitled “No Plastic, No risk.”

Aligned with the research utilization and capacity building thrusts of the Philippine National Health Research System (PNHRS), all competitors were nominated by their respective health research and development consortia.

The 3-Minute Pitch to Policymakers Competition is an initiative that aims to cultivate researchers’ presentation and communication skills to policymakers. This year, the competition was held as part of the Council’s 39th Anniversary Celebration last 17 March 201 via Zoom and Facebook Livestreaming.

Stressing the importance of utilization in the health research process, the PNHRS Research Utilization Committee Chair Dr. Cecilia Acuin said, “We really need to work on getting our research used, especially at this time when resources are even more constrained than usual. That is why, one of the motivations of holding this competition is to hone the ability to pitch research not only among research but most especially to policymakers. Presenting your research to policymakers, is one of the most effective and efficient way in having your research utilized.”