The Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Health (DOH), and the Department of Agriculture (DA) are pushing for the establishment of the Virology and Vaccine Institute of the Philippines (VIP).
Leading the initiative, DOST Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña emphasizes how Filipinos may benefit from the VIP, which is envisioned to be the country’s foundation of research and innovation on human, animal, and plant viruses in the next 10 to 15 years.
Virology research for health and agriculture
The emergence of SARS-CoV-2, a novel strain of the coronavirus, in 2020 highlighted the need for R&D capacities in virology research. Having a pool of highly-trained virology experts and appropriate facilities could have enabled local researchers to conduct studies on the virus as quickly as possible and guided authorities in implementing evidence-informed response strategies.
To better prepare the country for similar health emergencies, the creation of a research institute that specializes in virology research is a must. Responding to this need is one of the objectives of the VIP.
Following the establishment of a fully-operational VIP, the first five to six years of the Institute will focus on growing local expertise in virology research and building the body of research on virus strains and the diseases they cause in the country.
These efforts will serve as the foundation of applied research studies and the development of diagnostic kits, vaccines, and therapeutics not just for humans, but also for animal and plant diseases. In the same way, these initiatives will impact the agriculture sector by addressing viral diseases that affect crops and livestock that cause significant losses for local farmers.
Aside from generating knowledge and creating a local pool of experts, the VIP will also serve as a collaborative hub for both Filipino and foreign researchers. Its in-house virus gene bank, virus genome laboratory, and virus reference laboratory will be available for researchers to conduct innovative and pioneering virology research.
Diagnostics for human, animal, and plant diseases
Access to comprehensive data on causative viral agents such as SARS-CoV-2 will also enable local researchers to develop targeted and effective diagnostic strategies. As demonstrated by the current pandemic, the development and availability of diagnostic tools will play a key role in managing diseases.
Aiming to ensure that these efforts will be translated to support communities, initiatives to boost technology transfer are also included in the VIP roadmap, including thrusts for sustained production and capacity building.
This will improve access and availability to low-cost, quality diagnostic kits that will benefit both the health and agriculture sector.
Development of locally-made vaccines
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the advantages of building local capacities in vaccine development. With the VIP, Filipino researchers will have access to cutting-edge facilities that adhere to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) biosafety guidelines as well as practical training on virology, allowing them to conduct R&D on vaccines for human, animal, and plant diseases.
The provision of these facilities will also support the overall vision to enable the Philippines to be self-reliant in terms of vaccine development. Establishing a local vaccine development and manufacturing industry will help secure vaccine supply for Filipinos, which was one of the challenges the country faced during the pandemic.
This will benefit not only the health sector in managing persistent viral diseases but also the agricultural sector by providing vaccines for animal diseases that impact livestock farms and fisheries.
Call for support for the VIP Bill
The bill supporting the establishment of the VIP has been approved by the House of Representatives last July 2021 and is awaiting passage in the Senate. It has received endorsement from President Rodrigo Duterte as one of the priority bills once the Senate resumes session in May 2022.
Secretary de la Peña shares the need for the establishment of the VIP. “The DOST initiated the establishment of the VIP to have the necessary capability in conducting research to combat novel, emerging, and re-emerging viral diseases,” he said.
Support for this bill from the public and legislators is crucial in building the country’s capacities in preparing for potential health and economic crises. (Article contributor: Jwynne Gwynneth P. Macan)