This year proved to be challenging for the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) with the emergence of COVID-19, forcing the country’s lead science and technology agency to pull out all stops to help fight the deadly pathogen.
Despite the risks, DOST still continued its mission to harness science, technology, and innovation (STI) to provide various interventions and deliver services that will promote inclusive socio-growth and development to the country.
DOST even helped placed the country to a much higher spot in the Global Innovation Index (GII) from its former rank of 100th six years ago.
In terms of Research and Development (R&D), many of DOST’s programs still pushed on, even with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, when it comes to comparing expenditures with its Asian neighbors, the Philippines was at the bottom of the list, according to its top official.
A major role has been passed on to the DOST from serving as the lead agency of the Inter-Agency Task Force’s on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) sub-Technical Working Group on Vaccine Development to the present Task Group on COVID-19 Vaccine Evaluation and Selection.
Through this, DOST worked thoroughly on vaccine development-related activities, including preparations for the conduct of COVID-19 vaccine Phase 3 clinical trials in the country. The department is also involved in the identification, evaluation, and recommendation of possible vaccine candidates for the Philippines.
As such, the department mobilized its existing bilateral and multilateral partnerships, and even attracted new ones, to identify foreign vaccine developers that would be willing to work with the Task Group and the Philippine government to ensure the country’s access to the global supply of vaccines.
The DOST is at the forefront of research and development to assist in the government’s response to the pandemic. DOST spearheaded the Philippine participation in the World Health Organization Solidarity Trials on Vaccines and Therapeutics.
It supported the development of GenAmplify, the first Filipino-made RT-PCR detection kit and the Web-based disease model, Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler (FASSTER), which served as a platform for projecting the future course of COVID-19 infections as well as surveillance.
Trials on virgin coconut oil
In terms of local clinical trials, the DOST is funding and monitoring the conduct of trials on virgin coconut oil, melatonin, lagundi, tawa-tawa, and convalescent plasma as supplementary treatments for COVID-19. Good results on the use of VCO as an adjunctive therapy for COVID-19 suspects and probable cases were announced to the public in mid-November.
In addition to FASSSTER, development of other ICT and or artificial intelligence-driven models and applications were supported and deployed such as the Tracing for Allocation of Medical Supplies (TrAMS+), Telepresence Terminals for COVID-19 Response Team and Resource Allocation Management, Distribution, and Monitoring or Project RAMDAM.
Design, development, and production of PPEs, medical devices, and accessories were immediately initiated in collaboration with government R&D and higher education institutions as well as private sector partners including start-up companies.
These include development of ventilators, powered air purifying respirator; specimen collection booths; GO-CLEAN disinfection chamber; mobile AI-enabled thermal scanners; nanotechnology-enhanced sanitizers, re-useable, washable and re-wearable face masks; 3-D printed venturi valves, ear loop holders, filter attachment for oxygen concentrator masks.
Virology research center
The department has also spearheaded the crafting of bills for the establishment of the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines (VIP) to serve as the country’s premier research center in the field of virology, encompassing all areas in viruses and viral diseases in humans, plants, and animals.
It was also this year that the country ranked 50th among 131 economies in the Global Innovation Index (GII), its best rank ever. The country has climbed the GII ranking for two consecutive years now, from rank 73 to 54 in 2018 to 2019 and from 54 to 50 in 2019-2020. Six years ago, the country still ranked 100th.
The Philippines, together with three other economies (China, Vietnam, and India), has made the most significant progress in the GII ranking over time. Compared to other economies in Southeast Asia, the country performed above average in two of the seven GII pillars: Business sophistication and Knowledge and Technology outputs.
DOST Secretary Fortunato dela Pena said that the agency considers this as major news because it is a testament that DOST’s efforts in spearheading science, technology, and innovation are bearing fruits.
Moving up four notches from 54th in 2019 and scaling up by 23 steps from the 73rd ranking in 2018; the GII report shared that the Philippines performed on innovation above expectations for its level of economic development for the second consecutive year.
The ranking helps place innovation firmly on the policy map of economies and can guide leaders in incorporating scientific innovation as part of their economic strategies. The GII ranks world economies according to their innovation capabilities and provides rich analysis referencing around 130 economies.
Over the last decade, the GII has established itself as both a leading reference on innovation and as a “tool for action” for economies that incorporate the GII into their innovation agenda. The GII rankings are determined based on seven pillars – Creative Outputs, Institutions, Human Capital & Research, Infrastructure, Market Sophistication, Business Sophistication, and Knowledge & Technology Outputs.
The Philippines, together with other three economies (China, Vietnam, and India), has made the most significant progress in the GII innovation ranking over time. Compared to other economies in SouthEast Asia, the Philippines performed above average in two of the seven GII pillars: Business sophistication and Knowledge & technology outputs.
At the bottom
Meanwhile, comparing expenditures when it comes to Science and Technology (S&T) (R&D) with its Asian neighbors, the Philippines is at the bottom of the pile according to Dela Pena.
“Kaya nga po ayoko nang pag-usapan iyan dahil tayo’y nandoon sa bandang ibaba (That’s why I avoid talking about the amount we spend on R&D and S&T because are at the bottom compared to others),” Dela Pena said during a Palace press briefing.
“Because if we will compare ourselves with the other original members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), we are at the bottom,” he said in Pilipino.
Original founders of ASEAN are Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
“What’s a bit sad is that Vietnam which is a new member of ASEAN, has surpassed us when it comes to that,” Dela Pena said in Pilipino.
Dela Pena said before in a text message to Manila Bulletin that “we could surpass many of our ASEAN neighbors if our proposed yearly increases are given.”
He added that DOST’s programs to push regional development such as in provinces through science, technology, and innovation (STI) will be at a lesser scale and their assistance to technology based start-ups will be very limited.
Dela Pena also disclosed during the briefing that Government Expenditures for Research and Development (GERD) as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) averages one percent worldwide according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). We are still at 0.15 percent.
“But on the other hand if we compare the DOST budget versus the total national budget it is 0.5 percent or one-half of one percent,” he added.
The DOST budget of P23.890 billion is higher by P3.367 billion or a 16.4 percent increase over the current year’s budget of P20.524 billion. The secretary said that the big portion of the increase goes to scholarships, and the starting the Virology S&T Institute of the Philippines.