PH science advisory body urges research-based approach to fight coronavirus

Shaira Panela

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PH science advisory body urges research-based approach to fight coronavirus
According to the National Academy of Science and Technology, mathematical modeling studies in epidemiology 'may help us better understand how the epidemic will evolve'

MANILA, Philippines – The National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST), an institution whose mandate is to advise the President and the Cabinet on matters involving science and technology, is pushing for a research-based approach to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, the NAST said that the Philippines, like other countries, has proposed novel and sometimes radical measures as possible solutions to the pandemic crisis.

“Almost all of them, however, are not based on scientific studies but largely on expert opinion and what we think worked and did not work during the SARS problem in 2003 and the influenza global pandemic in 2009,” it added.

The NAST also expressed its support for the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and its current COVID-19-related research initiatives.

Among these initiatives are the face masks to be produced by the DOST-Philippine Textile Research Institute and its private partners; and the DOST-funded diagnostic test kits being produced by University of the Philippines scientists.

Additionally, the NAST proposed a number of studies to be done in epidemiology, diagnostics, therapy, vaccine development, and genetics.

The NAST said that mathematical modeling studies in epidemiology “may help us better understand how the epidemic will evolve.”

“The data generated will be very helpful in forward planning by concerned government agencies to anticipate, prepare, and dampen the effects of this epidemic on different aspects of national life, including the economy,” the NAST said in a statement.

The NAST also recommended the use of antibody-based assays to help diagnose more patients infected by COVID-19.

“It may catch the cases missed by the tests for detecting infection as these tests may have been done too early or too late in the disease,” it said.

“The tests to detect antibodies will determine the true burden of disease and as well as provide added information on the infectiousness, transmission dynamics, and progression of the disease. These tests may also be used for predicting chances for development of complications as well as mortality, especially if the antibodies are proven to be neutralizing antibodies,” it added.

Currently, the tests being conducted are PCR or polymerase chain reaction-based. The samples are then sent to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine or any of the 4 other World Health Organization-accredited subnational laboratories.

The Philippines lags behind other countries in the field of mass testing for COVID-19. In an earlier report, data shows that the country only tests 12 per million of the population.

Participate in clinical trials

Meanwhile, the NAST recommended that the country should participate in clinical trials initiated by other countries to help us better understand how the patient responds to the new medicine being developed.

“Participation in these multi-country studies can facilitate its availability in our country when the results become significant,” it added.

The NAST said the country should contribute to international databases of molecular and genetic structures of the virus using the samples collected from patients. These databases serve as references for vaccine development.

“This will ensure that the vaccines developed can induce protection against all of the circulating SARS-CoV-2 viruses isolated from patients anywhere else in the world,” the NAST said.

About 35 academic institutions and companies worldwide are racing to develop a vaccine against COVID-19. It will take at least 12 to 18 months before a vaccine for this disease will be ready.

The NAST also recommended that Filipino scientists should identify genetic biomarkers that may either predispose or make people less susceptible to the infection. This will also help determine the risk for the severity of disease and complications.

The NAST said it is important for scientists to share information within and among researchers and institutions both locally and abroad to help build on each other’s strengths and accelerate the race to find solutions to this global pandemic.

“Scientific research and development remain our most effective weapon to confront them and the SARS-CoV-2,” it said.

As of Friday, March 27, the Philippines has 803 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, with 54 deaths and 31 recoveries. 

The number of cases worldwide has risen to over 500,000, with at least 23,000 deaths. The virus has spread to 182 countries. –

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