DOST approves 6 R&D projects as part of VIP program – DOST chief

Published May 28, 2021, 7:20 PM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza 

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has given the green light to the implementation of six research and development (R&D) projects as part of the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines (VIP) program.

DOST Secretary Fortunato “Boy” T. de la Peña (PCOO/Manila Bulletin File photo)

DOST Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña announced Friday, May 28, that the agency “has approved for implementation” the new R&D projects of the DOST-Industrial Technology Development Institute (ITDI) as part of the VIP program.

These are the following:

-Isolation and Purification of Philippine Common Viruses with Medical Importance and Pandemic Potential for Antigen-Antibody Studies;

-Combination Therapy: Lytic Bacteriophages and Plant Extracts against Multidrug-Resistant Bacteria;

-Detection of Food and Water-borne Bacterial Pathogens using Phage-based Diagnostics;

-De novo synthesis of a non-Infective Zika Pseudovirus as reference for diagnostics and vaccines development;

-Development of Antibody Test Kits for COVID-19 using Enzyme Immunoassay; and

-Antigenic Peptides as Potential Candidates for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Vaccine Development

De la Peña said the first project is set to focus on isolating pure cultures of coronaviruses, and avian viruses, from civet cats, and chickens, respectively. It is spearheaded by Dr. Annabelle Briones of the Environment and Biotechnology Division (EBD) of ITDI. Briones is the executive director of the ITDI.

“These pure culture viral isolates would then be used for the production of antigen-antibodies that could be used in development of diagnostic tools and vaccines,” the DOST chief said.

He said the second study “aims to isolate and characterize bacteriophages from the environment and screen them for their bactericidal and antibiofilm activities against multidrug-resistant (MDR) bacteria.”

The researchers, led by Dr. Ursela Bigol from the EBD-ITDI, will look into the synergistic bioactivities of these isolated bacteriophages and the use of extracts from selected Philippine medicinal plants.

“The results of this study may help in the continuous fight against antimicrobial resistance by providing evidence on the efficacy and efficiency of combining alternative strategies against MDR bacterial infections,” de la Peña said.

The third project, on the other hand, will focus on detection of food and water-borne bacterial pathogens using phage- based diagnostics, he said.

“In this study, the isolated and characterized phages will be part of the initiative to set-up a repository of local strains that will be of great interest to the bacteriophage research in the country,”he said.

“In addition, optical density measurements will be investigated as a simple and inexpensive method for the detection and quantification of bacteriophages at different levels of sensitivity and time efficiency.”

Gelito Joseph Sikat from the EBD-ITDI is tasked to lead the research project, which is divided into three phases.

De la Peña said “the initial phase of this project will be a crucial step in the development of biosensors.”

He also cited the relevance of the de novo synthesis of non-infective Zika Pseudovirus as reference for diagnostics and vaccines development.

“This study would aim to produce non-infective, virus-like particles (VLPs) or pseudoviruses of Zika Virus (ZikV), via de novo synthesis. These VLPs/Pseudoviruses would serve as reference material for the researches and allow for a safer and more efficient approach in research and development of serological diagnostic kits and vaccines against ZikV.”

“These would become the stepping stone for further research for diagnostic tools and vaccines against infective arboviruses such as dengue and chikungunya.”

Bigol is expected to lead the team of researchers for this project.

“The current shortage of COVID-19 testing and the scarcity of the vaccine supply are the Philippine’s main predicaments during this COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, the DOST has also approved two projects under the VIP program to tackle these problems,” De la Peña said.

“These projects would pave the way for the self-sufficiency of the country in terms of research, development, and production of test kits and vaccines, in the future.”

The DOST chief said they are supporting the project of the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine (RITM) to develop COVID-19 test kits using antibody enzyme immunoassay (ELISA), a reliable method for biomolecular detection since the 1980s.

“The approach to COVID-19 testing is scalable and may greatly augment the current shortfall in testing volume capacity. The project is in response to the country’s current need of around 90,000 tests daily but the capacity is only about half that much,” he said.

He said Dr. Catherine Masangkay, one of the doctors of RITM, will lead the team for the study.

“The ELISA test kits would also be used for immunosurveillance, or the quantitative measurement of the immunizing antibodies (IgG) against COVID-19 of the post-vaccinated individuals.”

De la Peña said St. Luke’s Medical Center’s (SLMC) project on antigenic peptides as potential candidates for COVID-19 vaccine development has also been approved. it will be led by Dr. Maria Terrese A. Dimamay from Research and Biotechnology Division – St. Luke’s Medical Center (SLMC-RBD)

“Specifically, the project will establish the “proof of concept” by identifying antigenic peptides located at the S (spike), M (membrane), E (envelope) and N (nucleocapsid) proteins of the SARS- CoV-2 that are capable of inducing B and T cell immune responses for the development of potential vaccine for COVID-19 and its variants,” he said.

“These would pave the way for the development of non-infectious COVID-19 pseudovirus that would be used as a safer and more efficient alternative in manifold applications in the field of serology and vaccine development.”