With the theme Agham at Teknolohiya: Sandigan ng Kalusugan, Kabuhayan, Kaayusan at Kinabukasan, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) held an online forum last 17 November 2020 to provide updates on the recent technologies and researches in the areas of health, agriculture, aquatic, industry, energy, and emerging technologies.

During the online forum, the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) hosted the breakout session for the “New Normal in Health” where PCHRD Balik Scientist Awardees discussed various studies and initiatives to guide the public into the new normal brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The PCHRD Balik Scientists who were able to share their studies are Dr. Raymond Francis Sarmiento from the University of the Philippines (UP) Manila, Dr. Thomas Neil Pascual from the DOST – Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (DOST-PNRI), Dr. Jhalique Jane Fojas from the Harvard University, and Dr. Romulo De Castro from the University of San Agustin.

Dr. Sarmiento discussed the importance of having a strong information system in his presentation on “Digital Platforms and Interoperability of COVID-19 Information Systems.” Information systems play a critical role in managing data and other information at the speed the situation requires. In the Philippines, several information systems such as the Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler (FASSSTER) were able to guide the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) in their real-time decision making on what effective interventions should be placed in order manage the pandemic. Since then, the Department of Health (DOH) has been reporting significantly lesser viral transmission each day.

Dr. Pascual shared his insights on “Enhancing Nuclear Medicine Service and Research Capacity in the Philippines.” In his presentation, he revealed that the recent investment of DOST on the establishment of the Nuclear Medicine Research Development and Innovation Center (NMRDIC) in Diliman, Quezon City, which is a research based Cylotron and PET/CT imaging facility can address both the burden of COVID-19 and cancer by providing research opportunities for improved clinical management of patients and by making the procedure both accessible and affordable to even more Filipinos

Dr. Fojas talked about “Microfluidics: Towards POC Medicine and COVID-19.” Lab-on-a-chip devices, which often use microfluidics, provide more cost-effective disease detection and many other uses, from monitoring to treatment. In her discussion, Dr. Fojas revealed that one of the successful applications of microfluidics is on the Zika Virus Detection Device which is a point of care diagnostic tool that was able to accurately detect the virus from patients faster and at a cheaper price compared to the usual testing method. Dr. Fojas believes that the same concepts used in the device can also be utilized for other viruses like COVID-19 to aid in the testing and management of the virus. 

Dr. De Castro presented “Informatics Response to COVID-19.” His team from the University of San Agustin Center for Informatics (CFI) was able to develop the “COVID-19 Toolkit”, an information system to assist local governments, private organizations, and health decision makers across the Philippines in their response to COVID-19. This toolkit contains guidelines, recommendations, data, estimation tools and support, and informatics tools for contract tracing and monitoring. Currently, the CFI is collaborating with research partners from UP Diliman, UP Manila, UP Visayas, and the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) to offer free epidemiological modeling services to the Local Government Units (LGUs).

The session was facilitated and moderated by Dr. Arnulfo Rosario, a PCHRD Balik Scientist Awardee and a former research fellow under the Public Health Informatics Fellowship Program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at Atlanta, Georgia. To date, Dr. Rosario is the Project Director and Senior Lecturer in the Medical Informatics Unit at UP Manila.

Another PCHRD Balik Scientist, Dr. Gerard Dumancas from the Louisiana State University, did a presentation on “Teaching Innovations in the New Normal: Perspective from a Liberal Arts University in the United States” for the breakout session on the “New Normal in Education.

The Balik Scientist Program (BSP) was established in 1975 to encourage foreign-based Filipinos to return to the country and impart their knowledge and expertise for the advancement of research and development in the country, as well as address development gaps. The program was institutionalized back in June 2018 through the Republic Act 11035 also known as the Balik Scientist Act. From 1975 to 2019, a total of 533 have become recipients of the BSP, sharing their expertise in the areas of agriculture, industry, and health sectors.  

To know more about the BSP, visit their website at https://bspms.dost.gov.ph/

UP Manila innovators will finally launch a pioneer telemedicine spin-off called Pivotal Peak Digital Health Solutions, Inc. tomorrow, 24 November 2020, fifteen years after they invented the Community Health Information Tracking System or CHITS technology, an electronic medical record (EMR) system that is helping thousands of health workers manage patient health information in the Philippines.

Founded by the original inventors of CHITS along with a cadre of researchers and health technology developers who innovated and maintained CHITS for more than a decade, the Pivotal Peak aims to provide innovative solutions for health applications including the deployment, training, and maintenance of various eHealth solutions.

The start-up company is headed by Balik Scientist Dr. Arnulfo Rosario. Jr., a medical health informatics consultant at UP Manila National Telehealth Center and co-founder of SeeYouDoc healthcare startup. 

Pivotal Peak, Inc. features three major digital health services, namely: 

  • EMRs that are essential to efficient rendering of clinical care, continuity of care, PhilHealth accreditation of                   primary care providers for benefit packages, production of aggregate reports for public health program                         management and research.
  • Telemedicine that provides real-time referral of specialized clinical services
  • Telementoring that provides continuing professional development for physicians and health workers

CHITS is a project funded by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) under its ICT for Health research program. As one of the six PhilHealth-certified EMR systems being used in the
rural health unit (RHU) level, CHITS has helped reduce the patients’ waiting time and improved data management at the facility level as it improves monitoring of patient care through efficient data encoding and records retrieval.

The launch of UP Manila’s first digital health spin-off is a big news for us because there are very few start-up companies in the country that offer telemedicine solutions and services. In fact, Pivotal Peak is only the second health-related spin-off to register in the country, and a pioneer for UP Manila. We are indeed very glad that the efforts of our Filipino researchers have come to fruition as a support to our healthcare system,” said Dr. Jaime C. Montoya, DOST-PCHRD Executive Director.

Pivotal Peak demonstrates how research responds to the most pressing needs of our country. Indeed, this event is another manifestation of why we at the DOST strive to support our local researchers in the conduct of R&D. The DOST looks forward to future collaborations with Pivotal Peak in making change happen through R&D,” adds Usec. Rowena Cristina Guevara, DOST Undersecretary for R&D.

PCHRD and UP Manila are inviting the public to witness Pivotal Peak’s ceremonial launching online tomorrow, 24 November at 5:30 PM as part of the Philippine Startup Week 2020. Participants may register here.

With the theme “Bioteknolohiya: Pagbangon at Pag-asa tungo sa matatag na Komunidad, Kapaligiran, at Ekonomiya,” the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) is set to join this year’s virtual celebration of the 16th National Biotechnology Week (NBW) by featuring various biotech-related research projects and technologies in health from November 23 to 27, 2020.

The 16th NBW aims to emphasize the positive impact of biotechnology on the various sectors of the society as the Filipinos strive to proactively respond to the changing times brought about by different global crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The biotech-related researches to be featured under the health sector are:

Field Implementation Study of a Locally Developed Diagnostic Kit for the Detection of Corona Virus Disease-2019 (COVID-19)
The project aims to develop mechanisms for rapid assessment, validation, and deployment of the GenAmplify™ COVID-19 rRT-PCR Detection Kit and to facilitate capacity building of health professionals who will utilize the kit in regional hospitals.

Biosurveillance of COVID-19 in the Philippines through Whole Genome Sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 from Patients
The objective of this project is to determine the strains of Sars Cov2 present in individuals who tested positive for the virus through genomic sequencing, correlate them with environmental conditions and identify their possible geographic origin in order to provide a better and deeper understanding of the spread of the virus in aid of tracing and containment of the disease.

IMP-XDP: Investigations on the Molecular Pathogenesis of X-linked Dystonia Parkinsonism
This research aims to fill in the gaps in our understanding of the molecular basis of X-linked Dystonia Parkinsonism (XDP), which is a genetic form of a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects men of Filipino descent almost exclusively.  The earliest symptoms are usually parkinsonian, including resting tremor, slowness of movement, rigidity, poor balance, and a shuffling gait.

Development of Rapid Diagnostic for Detecting Lamivudine Resistance
The third part of three interrelated projects to determine and characterize HIV drug resistance in the Philippines, the development of a rapid diagnostic test for lamivudine and other antiretroviral drug resistance in HIV will ensure that treatment failure and development of further drug resistance will be prevented by detecting resistance early and preserving the limited antiretroviral agents that they have.

Development of Low-Cost Point-of-Care Diagnostics for Simultaneous Detection of Paragonimus westermani and Mycobacterium tuberculosis using RPA Technology
This project hopes to provide a proof of concept data on a better but cheaper alternative diagnostic tool to simultaneously detect Paragonimus westermani, an organism that causes infection resembling pneumonia or stomach flu, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis which is an agent of pulmonary tuberculosis in the Philippines using isothermal amplification, lateral flow immunoassay and detection using nanogold technology.

By virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 1414, NBW is annually celebrated every last week of November. Headed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) this year, the event is co-organized by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippine, Departments of Agriculture, Science and Technology, Interior and Local Government, and Trade and Industry.

DOST-PCHRD encourages everyone to participate in the week-long celebration and to attend the virtual opening ceremony on November 23, 2020 by registering through https://bit.ly/16thNBWOpening.

When COVID-19 hit the Philippines early January, the infectious disease posed challenges not only to our healthcare systems, but in the way we do things. As we were fighting an invisible enemy, adaptive measures had to be imposed and implemented as soon as possible.

A crucial part of gearing for this battle is to know the presence of the enemy, and to immediately isolate those who were infected to avoid further transmission. A researcher from the University of the Philippines - National Institutes of Health (UPM-NIH) played an important role in making this precaution possible and easier for our country.

With the lack of a locally-available diagnostic kit, the country can only test a limited number of samples early this year. Recognizing how diagnostics play a significant role in fighting the pandemic, Dr. Raul Destura and his team immediately proceeded to work on the development of the GenAmplify™ Corona Virus 2019 (COVID-19) rRT PCR Detection Kit.

Developed by Dr. Destura’s very own Manila HealthTek Inc., in collaboration with the University of the Philippines - National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) and the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) with support from the Department of Science and Technology - Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD), the test kit can detect the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) with high specificity and efficiency through a one-step multiplex real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) platform.

Undeniably, the technology is a game-changer in our pandemic response. It is important to note, however, that the man who made this possible is a scientist and a leader who has already worked for many years to provide accessible and affordable health technologies for our communities.

A Researcher, Leader, and a Public Servant

Dr. Raul Destura is the current deputy executive director of the Philippine Genome Center (PGC), and the CEO of Manila HealthTek Inc.. With his extensive knowledge and experience in microbiology and infectious diseases, he has already undertaken several award-winning endeavors in health.

His Lab-in-a-Mug project aims to develop diagnostic kits for diseases by utilizing miniature isothermal units. As a portable technology, the kit is seen to provide more affordable and accessible diagnostic tests for the Filipino.

A part of this project is the multi-awarded Biotek M™ Dengue Detection Kit which acts as a confirmatory test for diagnosis of dengue infection in the first 0-5 days of illness, and provides the results in an hour or less. Also in the pipeline are diagnostic kits for other infectious diseases such as typhoid fever, leptospirosis, schistosomiasis, Chikungunya, tuberculosis, and influenza.

My research bench to community approach is ultimately geared towards developing low-cost technologies for the control of infectious diseases in the Philippines and the generation of new knowledge to find sustainable and equitable solutions to disease of poverty.” Dr. Destura says. (source: http://nih.upm.edu.ph/content/destura-raul-v)

For his contributions in health and science, he received various recognitions here and abroad, such as the conferment of the prestigious Presidential Lingkod Bayan Award in 2019 for his contributions to health and medical biotechnology, especially in the field of diagnostics, and the recognition as one of the most outstanding researchers in Asia by the Asian Scientist magazine this year.

What’s next for the locally-developed COVID-19 test kits

The locally-developed test kit is now approved for commercialization by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Continuous assessment, validation and deployment of the GenAmplify™ Corona Virus Disease-2019 (COVID-19) rRT-PCR Detection Kit is ongoing to capacitate health professionals in utilizing the kit, especially in regional hospitals.

National Biotechnology Week

As an important contribution and a significant development in biotechnology for health, Dr. Destura’s GenAmplify™ Corona Virus 2019 (COVID-19) rRT PCR Detection Kit will be featured in the National Biotechnology Week page for its 16th year celebration from November 23 to 27, 2020.

Other technologies covering the sectors of health, agriculture, and the emerging industry will also be featured in the exhibit. For more details, you may follow: facebook.com/nbwphilippines.

The 5th National Research and Development Conference (NRDC) is set to feature some of the latest advancements and breakthrough technologies in health that were supported by the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) in a virtual event on 9-11 November 2020.

With the theme, “Research and Development: Making Change Happen,” the 5th NRDC aims to bring together researchers, technology adopters, and industry leaders and present to them the latest technologies supported by DOST and other agencies, especially those that have impacted the government’s response against COVID-19. The different DOST Council heads will also be presenting updates on the Harmonized National R&D Agenda during the event.

Technologies and programs that will be featured under the health sector are:

GenAmplify Corona Virus 2019 (COVID-19) rRT PCR Detection Kit
Developed by Dr. Raul Destura from the University of the Philippines Manila – National Institutes of Health (UP – NIH), this diagnostic kit was locally developed to detect the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) with high specificity and efficiency through a one-step multiplex real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) platform. Priced significantly cheaper than its foreign counterparts, it provides accessible and affordable COVID-19 testing for Filipinos and expedited the process and turnaround period for COVID-19 testing in the Philippines.

Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler
Designed and developed by researchers from the Ateneo Center for Computing Competency and Research (ACCCRe), in collaboration with the University of the Philippines Manila - National Telehealth Center (UPM-NTHC) and the Department of Health – Epidemiology Bureau (DOH-EB), FASSSTER is a web-based disease surveillance platform that uses deterministic compartmental modelling to facilitate understanding of the effect of specific interventions to the spread of diseases. Relative to the pandemic, the Department of Health (DOH) officially adopted FASSSTER as the national data hub to support real-time decision-making for the COVID-19 crisis.

SOLIDARITY Treatment Trial: Multicenter Randomized Trial of Additional Treatments for COVID-19 in Hospitalized Patients
A global collaborative effort on the effectivity of repurposed antivirals in supporting the recovery of people who contracted COVID-19. This may be adopted in the official management protocol of COVID-19 patients, especially those who are critically ill.

In Vitro Study on the Efficacy of Lauric Acid and Deliverables Against SARS-CoV2
Led by Dr. Fabian Dayrit of the Ateneo de Manila University, the study aims to investigate whether coconut oil compounds, monolaurin and lauric acid, can be used as antiviral agents against COVID-19. Based on previous studies, these compounds are effective at killing viruses.

Tuklas Lunas Program: Drug Discovery and Development from Philippine Biodiversity
Recognizing the potential of the country’s natural resources for the discovery of novel drug compounds and local expertise in drug development, the DOST-PCHRD established the Tuklas Lunas Program. The priority conditions to be addressed includes cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and diabetes mellitus, and important communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and drug-resistant infections.

Tuklas Lunas Development Center: Mushroom Technologies
This research program on myko-mining and myko-pharming, headed by Dr. Renato G. Reyes from Central Luzon State University, works on the discovery and study of wild edible and poisonous mushrooms in Luzon Island, Philippines for their medicinal properties, and to develop functional food products from prioritized species of mushrooms. To date, the program was able to produce mushroom-based chips and shing-a-ling, generation of three bioactive extracts, and optimization of cultivation processes for priority mushroom species. 

Improving Neurocognition through Dance and Kinesthetics (INDAK)
Headed by Dr. Jaqueline Dominguez and implemented by the Institute of Neurosciences of the St. Luke’s Medical Center -Quezon City, the INDAK program embraces the ability of dance, specifically ballroom dancing, to stimulate cognition, and physical and social activity. Currently, INDAK is conducted as an individualized home-based program, or facility-based program at the Institute for Dementia Care Asia, for elderly with mild cognitive impairment. 

The 5th NRDC is hosted by the DOST in collaboration with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). 

Register now at http://nrdc.dost.gov.ph/.