The country’s lead in health research, Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD), announced the conception of the first National Mental Health Research Agenda (NMHRA) during the World Mental Health Week on Friday, October 11, 2019 at the Philippine International Convention Center, Pasay City.

Intended to set direction for the country’s future mental health research investments, the development of NMHRA 2019-2022 was facilitated by DOST-PCHRD and the World Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation (WAPR) – Philippines, working with various stakeholders.   The selection of NMHRA research priority areas is based on the provisions of the Philippine Mental Health Act of 2017.

We still have much to do in the field of mental health research, and I hope with the NMHRA, we can inspire more evidence-informed research programs on mental health in the country,” said Dr. Jaime C. Montoya, Executive Director of DOST-PCHRD.

According to the Principal Investigator of NMHRA and the President of WAPR-Philippines, Ms. Lucita Lazo, mental health is not a national priority over the years, but now solutions to address the problems are being brought out. Ms. Lazo expressed her high hopes that more government and non-government organizations will initiate and support mental health research efforts in the country.

Ms. Lazo co-developed the NMHRA with Dr. Lourdes L. Ignacio, the Founding President of WAPR-Philippines.

 

Mental health situation in the Philippines

In a developing country like the Philippines, the shortage of human and financial resources along with the stigma on anything “mental”, and the low prioritization for mental health hamper the national capacity to respond to the increasing needs of the Filipino to sustain a good quality of life,” said Dr. Ignacio.

Mental health is listed as the third most prevalent form of illness in the Philippines (Lally et. al., 2018). The Department of Health reported that one in every five Filipino adults has some form of mental illness.

Every year, around 3,500 Filipinos commit suicide (World Population Review, 2019). Additionally, the highest percentage of depression affects teenagers and young adults aged 16 to 29.

In terms of healthcare, there are only 2-3 mental health workers for every 100, 000 Filipinos (World Health Organization and DOH, 2006). This, according to experts, accounts for a severe shortage of mental health specialists in the country. Moreover, researchers argue that mental health in the Philippines remains an under-resourced aspect in healthcare.

 

National developments in mental health

According to Dr. Ignacio, there are two major waves of mental health development in the Philippines. The first was initiated in 2001 by the National Mental Health Policy issued by the Secretary of Health as the country’s commitment in observance of the World Health Day. The second was done in the last two years: the enactment of the Philippine Mental Health Act of 2017, the promulgation of its implementing rules and regulations, and the enactment of the Universal Health Law. These recent developments are all deemed to change the landscape of mental health in the country.




The future of mental health research with NMHRA 2019-2022

Mental health is one of the research priorities in the National Unified Health Research Agenda (NUHRA) 2017-2020. However, no mental health research framework existed which the DOST-PCHRD could follow in supporting mental health programs.

With the NMHRA 2019-2022, future mental health research projects are expected to achieve three major outcomes as follows: improved mental health information system; strengthened leadership and governance; and accessible, available, affordable, and responsive mental health services.

According to Ms. Lazo and Dr. Ignacio, a strengthened mental health information system is crucial as it will lay the basis for innovations in the field. More so, this will help steer the provision of mental healthcare services for Filipinos. Subsequently, an improved leadership and governance will ensure adequate supply of resources needed for mental health services in the country. Well-informed duty bearers will fuel the provision of treatment and care in local mental health facilities and mental hospitals, which will increase the availability of mental health services among local communities all over the country.

The new mental health research agenda seeks to support the current policy reforms in mental health, as it is informed by developments at the global level and continues to support a life course perspective on mental health research.

“Now, it seems like there can be reality to the movement towards approaching mental health from a transformative framework to being more wide-ranging, as it’s going to traverse the whole of life, because that’s what mental health is all about, the whole total well-being, so exciting!” Dr. Violeta Bautista, head of UP Diliman’s Clinical Psychology Program stressed.


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Young Scientists Network is calling for applications to the ASEAN Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) Project. This workshop aims to foster integrity across Southeast Asia towards achieving the long-term goal of establishing a robust RCR agenda.

All successful applicants will be invited to attend the ASEAN RCR Workshop, which will be held at AKEPT, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia from the 11 - 13 December 2019. This workshop will be the first stage of the 3-year ASEAN RCR Project.

Early- to mid-career researchers in all disciplines of sciences including engineering, social sciences, arts and the humanities in the ASEAN region, who are passionate about promoting research integrity are encouraged to apply. The network also welcomes research administrators who actively promote research integrity to apply and participate in this project.

ASEAN RCR Workshop Structure

The ASEAN RCR Workshop is developed as a highly interactive workshop that includes training, application, peer support and mentorship on RCR. Participants will learn about the framework and content of RCR; and they will be provided with pedagogical and leadership training as well as network to formulate regional collaborative strategies. Participants who attend this workshop will take part in the 3-year ASEAN RCR Project that includes the promotion of RCR in their home country.


ASEAN RCR Workshop Structure Costs

Training, meal and accommodation costs will be covered by the organizers for all participants. Travel support will also be made available to a maximum of two participants from each ASEAN member state. There will be some costs that will not be covered by the program, such as visas and vaccinations, for which the participants may need to seek support from their local institution or fund personally. Participants will also be required to provide their personal travel insurance details as a condition of participation.


Application Process:

All applicants have to fill up the formal application form and provide one recommendation letter from their proposed referee (details are provided in the ASEAN RCR Project Application Form). Please ensure that the support letter is sent from an official institutional email address. The referee has to commit to be involved in future communications and mentorship of successful ASEAN RCR Project applicants.

Deadline of applications is on the 30th of October 2019. For more information, please contact Dr. Chau De Ming (Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; Tel. No.: +6 018 660 2208).

Following the success brought by the lagundi and sambong medicinal products developed under the National Integrated Research Program on Medicinal Plants (NIRPROMP) of the Department of Science and Technology - Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD), the Tuklas Lunas Program is established to pursue drug discovery and development by leveraging on the country's very own biodiversity.

Given that most medicines available in the country are developed abroad and are distributed by multinational companies, these products are usually offered at higher prices which in turn becomes a barrier for Filipinos to access treatment. To develop drugs which are sourced locally makes them more accessible and affordable to communities.  The Tuklas Lunas program aims to harness the potential of the country’s own resources under two tracks: the herbal and drug tracks. The program also aims to help strengthen the capacities of both researchers and the local industry in drug discovery and development.

In the Tuklas Lunas program, the Council partners with institutions in the regions to study the region’s biodiversity potential for drug research. The institutions’ diverse outputs are attributed to the resources peculiar and abundant to each region.

To date, the program has supported and partnered with 27 institutions nationwide for the implementation of projects addressing various stages of the drug discovery and development. Some of the most advanced projects in terms of development include the clinical trial of fixed-dose combination of three plants for management of dengue-associated symptoms by Pharmalytics Inc. and De La Salle University Health Sciences Institute; 26 plants on ongoing formulation and standardization for gout, inflammation, hypertension and blood-glucose lowering by the University of the Philippines – Manila, Ateneo de Manila University, Pascual Lab, Inc., Pharmalytics, Inc. and Herbanext Lab, Inc.; and development of functional food and herbal drug candidates from edible mushrooms and ferns by the Central Luzon State University and Central Mindanao University.



Aside from drug discovery and development, the DOST-PCHRD supports researches and projects that address the country’s most pressing health concerns outlined in the National Unified Health Research Agenda and the Harmonized National Unified Health Research Agenda (HNRDA) from conceptualization to technology transfer.

 

Six countries declare commitment to international collaboration for TB research during the 5th Annual Regional Prospective Observational Research in Tuberculosis (RePORT) Meeting hosted by the Philippines last September 17-19, 2019 at the Philippine International Convention Center, Pasay City.

Aiming to accelerate the adoption of research findings across regions, the RePORT International Consortia composed of Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and the Philippines shared important research results on tuberculosis prevalence, TB, HIV, and diabetes co-infections, multi-drug resistance, TB vaccine and medications, global TB biomarkers, and diagnostics in a three-day meeting attended by scientists, medical researchers, academicians, and health professionals.


“Tuberculosis remains a global problem; no one country can solve it alone. With this meeting, we can bring countries to really tackle the impacts of TB,” said Mr. Carl Dieffenbach from the Division of AIDS, U.S. National Institutes of Health in his presentation about creation of a research portfolio in understanding the disease.

As the host of this year’s RePORT Meeting, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) through Secretary Fortunato de la Pena expressed the importance of global initiatives to fight the TB epidemic, citing that the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) has been creating better solutions to fight TB through research and innovation.

 

National research strategies to fight the TB epidemic

The Philippines has the fourth highest burden of TB worldwide, and among the countries with the highest burden of multi-drug resistant TB. In the country’s National Unified Health Research Agenda (NUHRA) 2017-2022, communicable diseases such as tuberculosis are identified as one of the country’s health research priorities.

In 2018, the DOST-PCHRD has invested nearly 34 million pesos for TB research efforts in the country, one of which is the “Community-approach to Control and Halt Drug Resistant TB (COACH-DRTC),” a project aimed at promoting a multi-sectoral environment in reinforcing TB-control programs through local government collaborations.

The Council also supported the 2016 National Prevalence Survey which presented TB’s burden among Filipinos. It also identified ways to improve TB control and management as a step in alleviating the impacts of TB in the country.

More research programs and studies are still being supported by the Council to explore diagnostics, drug discovery, and impact assessment to fully understand and create necessary actions to lessen the burden of TB among Filipinos.

 

Global commitment to TB research collaboration

The three-day international meeting among the members of RePORT International was concluded with commitments to collaborate in TB research by initiating approaches to leverage huge cohort samples which will help nations in the existing process of clinical trials and the development of medications to prevent and treat TB.

Throughout the sessions, important research results and data from different countries were presented, with aims of creating a productive TB science discourse between the researchers and scientists in the meeting. Panel discussions also resulted to calls for tangible actions derived from the research results which will greatly determine the future of TB science in the global context.

Despite recognizing the barriers in terms of data sharing across countries, the delegates committed to participate and support all appropriate collaborations to advance TB research across all regions.

RePORT International is a cooperative strategy between nations established by the U.S. National Institutes of Health aimed at advancing regional TB science relevant in a global context through strengthening TB research capacity, infrastructure and research collaboration within countries.

Now on its 5th year, the RePORT International meeting is being held annually to update countries on the current status of TB science and create spaces to foster research collaboration to fight the impacts of TB worldwide.

The Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) looks at two ways to fast-track its technology transfer program, thus, spawn the growth of start-up companies by innovators in health technologies and the health industry, in general. One is shared investment in research by industry and the Council, like the Axis Knee System for knee replacement, in which the DOST-PCHRD co-invested with Orthopaedic International, Inc. This proved to be the quickest route to the market of a product from research.

Second, with its biomedical devices program, in particular the Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Health Technologies (IBEHT) at De La Salle University- Laguna Campus, the plan is to build a biomedical device region within the Calabarzon industrial complex in which IBEHT serves as a research and technology business incubator (TBI) hub for start-up companies. Similar set-up for other research programs in other regions are also planned.

On the other hand, social innovations in health generated by innovators working in communities, a regular inventory, documentation and exchange of best practices will be worked out with the regional consortia so that these innovations can be shared with those in similar situations. The Council’s Dr. Gelia Castillo Award for Social Innovation in Health will serve as the vehicle for this program.

On a continuing basis, the DOST-PCHRD supports capacity building program for researchers, project managers and technology transfer staff of higher education institutions and RDIs in the areas of technology assessment, intellectual property policy development and protection, licensing assistance, establishment of technology transfer processes and patent landscape report generation.

The DOST-PCHRD is a pioneer in technology transfer and commercialization. From the work of the National Integrated Research Program on Medicinal Plants, lagundi as cough remedy and sambong for kidney stones were licensed to pharmaceutical companies in the 90s.

As well, the first start-up company out of a DOST-PCHRD-supported project is the Manila HealthTek Inc., led by Dr. Raul Destura of the University of the Philippines – National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) – home to the award-winning Biotek M dengue aqua kit. After years of clinical trials, the kit is now available in the market and is already used by some hospitals in the country at a much lower cost with sensitivity and specificity comparable to the standard test. Following this success, commercial scale prototype and testing is now underway for Biotek M Typhi Kit for typhoid fever, Biotek M Lepto Kit for leptospirosis, and Biotek M Schisto Kit for schistosomiasis.