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.

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.

 





President Rodrigo Roa Duterte conferred the prestigious Presidential Lingkod Bayan Award to Biotek M lead Dr. Raul Destura of the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) for his contributions to health and medical biotechnology, especially in diagnostics during the awards rites on 10 September 2019 in Malacañang.
 
Dr. Destura, with support from the Department of Science and Technology - Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) led the development of the award-winning Biotek M dengue aqua kit for a faster, more affordable and accessible diagnosis for dengue. As the kit is capable of detecting the infection within an hour from extraction, it is seen to ultimately lessen the number of hospital admittance and lower health expenses, especially for the marginalized sectors of the community.
 
The annual Search for Outstanding Government Workers forms part of the Civil Service Commission’s Honor Awards Program (HAP). The award aims to recognize civil servants who have shown exemplary performance and have contributed significantly in achieving our national goals.

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.