COVID-19 was nowhere near the first virus to upend our world, and it will very likely not be the last. From influenza to HIV to dengue, mankind has long grappled with the devastation of viruses, actively studying these public health threats to keep outbreaks at bay.
In the midst of the current pandemic, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has submitted a proposal for the establishment of the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines (VIP). Announced by DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña in a May 22 Facebook post, it is envisioned to be the premier research institute in the field of virology, encompassing all areas in viruses and viral diseases in humans, plants, and animals.
A lab for ground-breaking research
The institute will “conduct innovative scientific research on viral agents requiring high or maximum containment (biosafety level-2 to biosafety level-4) following the World Health Organization’s guidelines on the establishment of a virology laboratory in developing countries. Research studies on viral agents will focus on vector/reservoir transmission, viral ecology, clinical virology, pathogenesis, pathophysiology, and host immune response to these viral pathogens.”
In the same post, the Sec. de la Peña said that the institute may explore the fields of:
- enteric infections,
- respiratory infections,
- central nervous system infections,
- viral infections in the immunocompromised host,
- antiviral and antimicrobial resistance,
- viral diversity,
- plant pathology,
- plant–virus interactions,
- and major plant viruses.
The establishment of this institution may help develop our nation’s capacity to contribute to global efforts such as the development of a vaccine to viruses such as COVID-19. Currently, there are no local efforts to create such a vaccine due to the lack of proper facilities and resources.
“The development of vaccines requires very good research on viruses, particularly those that are circulating in our environment,” said Secretary de la Peña. “This will also require the establishment of a virus high containment laboratory for the study of viruses.”
The necessity for preparedness
VIP will be a space for scientists to collaborate and study viruses that are crucial in the agricultural, industrial, clinical, and environmental spheres.
“We have to be prepared because pandemics, such as what we are experiencing now, can occur again in the future,” said Secretary de la Peña in a May 26 interview with CNN Philippines’ New Day. “I think it is not only the vaccines that we have to pay attention to; it is also diagnostics as well as the therapeutics that will be needed.”
“May I just add that when we talk of the viruses, it is not just those that attack humans but also those of animals,” he said. “For example, we have the problem of the African Swine Fever and the viruses that attack our important crops like abaca, papaya, mango, banana, etc., so this is very important.”
The Philippines is currently seeking to collaborate with institutions in China and Chinese-Taipei (Taiwan) in the creation of a COVID-19 vaccine. “So we communicated with them and we are in the process preparing what is needed to execute the collaboration,” the Secretary shared.
Through other such strategic partnerships, the hope is for VIP to be a venue for pioneering virology research advancing the frontiers of virology in the country.