By Dhel Nazario
Researchers over time have produced vaccines that the World Health Organization considers “one of the most effective ways to prevent diseases,” yet scientists project that one against the novel coronavirus is more than a year away.
Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato dela Peña told the Manila Bulletin that in the next three months, depending on talks with bilateral partners, there might be a vaccine trial.
With regards to vaccines, dela Peña said that the country has signed agreements with Russia, France, China, India, the US, Thailand, and Iran under this administration.
“In the case of vaccines, our strategy now is to participate in clinical trials for those developed already in countries with whom we have existing bilateral agreements in science, technology, and research, and who are already in the clinical trials stage for vaccines,” the secretary said.
The agency early on has expressed its willingness to collaborate with other countries on clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccine development, which will help not just the Philippines but also all countries affected by this pandemic. From what he knows, the secretary said that it might take at least one and a half years before a vaccine becomes safe to be regularly used by humans.
“Two or three of our bilateral partners could be our partners also in vaccine clinical trials. Our local scientists are already in discussion with two possible partners,” he said.
“We will also join in WHO Solidarity Trials in vaccine if the WHO will recommend one for trials. In drugs we have already started with the WHO Solidarity Trials,” he added.
The country is also preparing for the clinical trial of Avigan, a potential treatment for the disease developed in Japan.
Currently, what local researchers are doing is to repurpose existing medications or supplements that have anti-viral properties, such as the ongoing analysis on lagundi and tawa-tawa. The latter has been known as a supplement for dengue, while the former has been widely used as a cough remedy.
The DOST chief said that when it comes to drugs against COVID-19, we can have hopes of showing that some formulations can be good therapies to combat the new pathogen. Right now, there is no cure for the disease and medical specialists are only treating its symptoms.
“Pwede ka din namang magtimpla ng mga bagong formulations kamukha ng lagundi at tawa-tawa. Kahit na may ebidensya na siya sa ibang sakit, eh ibang formulation naman ang gagawin diyan (You can create new formulations for lagundi and tawa-tawa. Although these are known to treat other diseases, we can make different formulations for them),” he told the Manila Bulletin.
Before clinical trials even begin for this project, they will send samples abroad to test if the drugs will be able to diminish or prevent the effectivity of SARS-COV-2, the causative virus for COVID-19.
Once tests produce conclusive evidence of possible benefits against the disease, these may feasibly alter the very essence of COVID-19 and dramatically decrease the struggle hospitals are currently facing with the influx of patients coming in every day.
Economic-wise, the secretary said that he would look at it in a way that it would reduce the number of unproductive people who are affected by the virus.
These preparations, as well as continued tests and new developments like apps that provide early detection, contact tracing, and disease surveillance, could prove to be helpful in the likely second wave of the pandemic, which they hope will not be as damaging as the first.