More laboratories needed to boost COVID-19 genome sequencing, expert says

Published May 17, 2021, 11:20 AM

by Jhon Aldrin Casinas

The government should tap more laboratories in order to boost the country’s efforts in detecting new variants of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), an infectious disease expert said Monday, May 17.


Dr. Rontgene Solante, the head of San Lazaro Hospital’s Adult Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine, made the suggestion as he expressed concern over the country’s genome sequencing capabilities to detect the new variants.

“To tell you frankly, I don’t think we are doing it enough because just like any other countries in Asia this is usually the problem because it requires resources, more laboratories to operate, manpower is also something that we have to address,” Solante said in an interview with CNN Philippines.

However, Solante, who is also a member the country’s vaccine expert panel, said that he is “a bit contented” in how the country is conducting the sequencing of samples since it is “enough” to detect the variants.

“At this point, I am a bit contented in the way that we are doing this sequence, and we have been detecting this variant and it’s enough for us to know that we have all of these variants,” he said.

“It’s just a matter that we really need to emphasize how we can prevent further transmission of this variant in our country,” he added.

In order to ramp up sequencing, the health expert recommended that more laboratories should be employed to conduct genome sequencing of COVID-19 samples.

“If we can tap other laboratories aside from the Philippine Genome Center or aside from the UP-NIH (University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health), if there are other laboratories who can also do sequencing the better it will be for us,” he said.

Solante pointed out that the variants first found in the United Kingdom and South Africa, are the most common variants detected in the COVID-19 samples subjected for genome sequencing.

“These two variants of concern alone are really an important possible drivers of increase (in cases) and transmission,” he said.

“Whether this new variant, the Indian variant, is coming in then that can be another variant. But again looking at this variant, for me, we have to treat already our situation that most of the cases are already variant-driven,” he added.

As of May 15, the Philippines has detected 1,109 cases of B.1.351 variant (South Africa), 967 cases of B.1.1.7 variant (UK), 158 cases of P.3 variant (Philippines), 12 cases of B.1.617.2 variant (India), and two cases of P.1 variant (Brazil).