Research on genomics significantly contributed to PH healthcare – DOST Secretary

In the Philippines, genomics research has significantly contributed to healthcare in different ways,” Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Renato Solidum Jr. said during the DOST Genomics Program press conference last 14 April 2023 at the Philippine Genome Center (PGC) in Diliman, Quezon City. 

In line with the theme “From Lab to Lives,” Sec. Solidum discussed how investing in R&D such as in the field of genomics can create resilient and sustainable societies, drive innovation and economic growth, and ultimately improve the quality of lives of Filipinos. “The DOST Genomics Program is an excellent example of how investing in research and development can lead to significant advancements in various fields, creating new products and business opportunities and employing additional staff, resulting in income generating partnerships,” Sec. Solidum said.  

Specific to healthcare, he discussed how research in the field contributed to various areas, such as disease diagnosis and management and the country’s COVID-19 pandemic response. Among the accomplishments he cited include the commercialization of rapid dengue diagnostic kits and the COVID-19 test kits developed by the Manila HealthTek Inc., and the identification of genetic variations and molecular features associated with hypoglycemic response in diabetes, leptospirosis, and sepsis complications studied by local experts and scientists.

The press conference also featured initiatives supported by the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD), which include the Filipino Genomes Research Program (FGRP) led by the UP National Sciences Research Institute (NSRI), which aims to examine genetic data that are attributable to the Filipino population, and the project led by the University of the Philippines – National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH), which aims to investigate the uniquely Filipino disease X-Linked Dystonia-Parkinsonism (XDP).

Under the FGRP, he discussed how the country also made significant strides towards forensic investigation: “We have established a comprehensive Filipino DNA marker database for identifying criminal offenders and supporting other DNA profiling applications.” He also highlighted the local Sexual Assault Investigation Kit (SAK) developed by Dr. Maria Corazon De Ungria and her team at the UP-NSRI, which doctors in the Philippines can use to collect biological samples from victims of sexual abuse, including child patients. The kit is being utilized by a component project under the FGRP that aims to validate collection, storage and data analysis strategies for biological samples from child victims of sexual abuse.

In a separate presentation, Executive Director of the UP-NIH Dr. Eva Cutiongco – de la Paz discussed the importance of  generating knowledge on XDP. “Our goal is to provide a comprehensive picture of the prevalence of the genetic cause of XDP in the country,” Dr. Cutiongco-de la Paz said. “This will provide very important data on the development of health services and allocation of resources, such as for PhilHealth packages, that can improve the quality of life of those affected by XDP,” she added.

The DOST and the PCHRD support health-related research on genomics for the development of personalized/precision medicines, diagnostics, therapeutics, other technologies, and as support to health and clinical practice guidelines and policies in the country. In 2022 alone, the DOST allotted more than 320 million pesos of funding support for health research in genomics. 

With the milestones of successful DOST investments, we are confident that we can continue transforming scientific ideas from the laboratory into tangible innovations and development that benefit the lives of Filipinos,” Sec. Solidum said.

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