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.




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.



A lower-leg prosthetic device made of natural fibers is being developed to help Filipino amputees in their rehabilitation and recovery.  Supported by the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) and the DOST Technology Application and Promotion Institute (DOST-TAPI) TECHNICOM Program, the technology pioneered by Engr. Eduardo Magdaluyo Jr. from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, is set to be a low-cost and high-quality version of a prosthesis compared to commercially available devices for the same purpose.

A local study conducted by the University of the East-Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center College of Allied Rehabilitation Sciences (UERMMMC-CAReS) revealed that around 80 percent of Filipino amputees do not have prosthesis because the ones available in the market are expensive.

Gold standard materials used in the production of prosthesis such as carbon fiber and titanium alloy are hard to come by and are often sourced, hence the hefty price tags on currently available prosthesis. While there are other cheap alternatives made of light-weight and weak metals, they offer very short service life making it impractical in the long run.

Turning this problem into an opportunity, Engr. Magdaluyo and his team of researchers from the UP Diliman Department of Mining, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering (UPD-DMMME) has successfully fabricated a lower leg prosthetic device that utilizes natural fibers in its composites. The structural strength simulation studies conducted on the device shows that the maximum tensile strength of their fabricated socket is comparable with that of a carbon fiber reinforced composite, and the maximum yield strength of their fabricated pylon ranks second to titanium alloy.

These results indicate that the incorporation of natural fibers into the prosthetic legs makes it more affordable and more light-weight but are as durable as other high-end prosthetic legs in the market. The proponents are also expecting that more Filipino amputees can avail this prosthetic device through PhilHealth’s expanded Z Benefit Rate for Mobility, Orthosis, Rehabilitation, Prosthesis Help (ZMORPH) package.

To date, the project team was able to develop five prototypes that will still undergo further laboratory testing to ensure that the device will be truly safe and reliable once it becomes available in the market.

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/.


The Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD), in partnership with the De La Salle University (DLSU), launched the new Tuklas Lunas Research Fellowship Program in a virtual event last 19 October 2020.

The program aims to capacitate researchers from the Tuklas Lunas Implementing Agencies (TLIAs) in the discipline and in the conduct of natural products research. This also entails sharing of DLSU’s available expertise and instruments to help equip and capacitate TLIAs in natural products research, specifically the molecular level study of secondary metabolites.

In its Phase 1 of implementation, 15 selected researchers from TLIAs will get to participate in online courses starting 1 October 2020 until 28 February 2021. The courses are designed to train and capacitate them on research topics including Chemistry of Natural Products, NMR Spectroscopy on Natural Products, and Chromatography for Natural Products. These courses will be delivered through online lecture sessions, online laboratory activities, and individual mentoring sessions through Zoom and AnimoSpace.

To further help the researchers in their studies and practice, the research fellows will also be trained on the discipline of journal reading using the vast DLSU collection of journals and online subscriptions, and training and access to the SciFinder, which is a powerful search engine especially in searching for chemical structures.

During the event, the selected Tuklas Lunas fellows and designated mentors were presented and introduced. The fellows were also oriented on what to expect during the four-month engagement in the program.

In their messages, both DOST-PCHRD Director Dr. Jaime Montoya and DLSU College of Science Dean Dr. Glenn Alea agreed that the Tuklas Lunas Research Fellowship Program will enable researchers to discover new knowledge and develop breakthrough technologies on natural products in the future. They viewed the program as a huge opportunity to develop a new breed of scientists who will provide research-based solutions to clinically unmet needs by leveraging on the country’s rich biodiversity.