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IN THE Philippines, fungi are an unexplored source of therapeutic drugs. The antibiotic properties of hypoxylon, a round and blotchy type of fungus found in rotting or decomposing wood, is the subject of a study that recently won a grant from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AVHF) in Germany. 

“The spectrum of projects being done by most Filipino researchers is mostly plant-based because our traditional medicine is based on ethnomedicinal plants,” said University of Santo Tomas (UST) professor Allan Patrick G. Macabeo, whose research project “Drug discovery of biologically active natural products from Philippine Hypoxylon Species” is being funded by a Digital Cooperation Fellowship grant from the AVHF.  

“Most don’t realize that some commercial drugs are also sourced from fungi,” said Mr. Macabeo. 

The AVHF started providing a monthly fund of €3,000 for Mr. Macabeo’s hypoxylon study in September, and will support it through January 2022. Professor Marc Stadler of the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research in Germany stands as virtual host collaborator.  

Continuous antibiotic discovery is essential in this day and age, according Mr. Macabeo. 

 “The reason we do these types of projects is the increasing incidence of drug resistance. Pathogens or microbes get used to common antibiotics over time,” he said in an interview with BusinessWorld. “[As] their defense, they set up a system of mechanisms to fight antibiotics. If you have a library of antibiotics that you can fire at these microbes, they’ll have a hard time stepping up resistance.”  

Potential applications of the compounds studied by Mr. Macabeo are for combating drug-resistant strains of microbes and pathogens. These include Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes tuberculosis, and Escherichia coli, which causes bacterial infections.   

“With its success, I hope I get to become one of the examples that will inspire younger generations to venture into this important research,” added Mr. Macabeo.  

In addition to antibiotics, fungi might be a source of statins, which regulate blood pressure and treat cardiovascular diseases and cancer.  

Mr. Macabeo is done collecting and identifying fungal samples, with many of the fungi used in the study coming from his home region of Ilocos. He and his colleagues are now analyzing the antibiotic compounds.  

“Drug discovery is a very long process. It takes many years,” Mr. Macabeo said. “Once we find a very potent compound or antibiotic, it still has to undergo pre-clinical trials and clinical trials. Our part only involves primary screening — whether the compounds inhibit microbes.”  

Aside from dealing with pandemic lockdowns delaying non-coronavirus-related research, Filipino scientists have to find continuous, consistent funding to see the entire drug development process through, according to Mr. Macabeo.  

He cited the Department of Science and Technology (DoST), which has initiatives like the Science for Change Program (S4CP), which aims to accelerate science and technology information in the country and keep up with the world in terms of R&D.  

“The DoST is going in a very good direction. Although budget allocation when it comes to research in the Philippines is still low compared to other Southeast Asian countries, I hope it will increase,” said Mr. Macabeo. “I hope they invest more because we’re still in the infancy of government support (for R&D). I hope they continue these efforts.”