The Medical City and the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development are working together to reach this goal
Health researchers are all the more essential, especially with the re-emergence of various transmissible and infectious diseases globally and in the Philippines. But with the consistent depletion of resources to address the many unmet medical needs paired with limited training grounds, very few researchers are able to sharpen and refine their skills and expertise. In 2020, the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) reported through the Scientific Knowledge Management System recorded only 483 researchers under the country’s medical and pharmaceutical scientific research divisions. Furthermore, only a fraction of this number constitutes researchers with a clinical background and medical specializations.
In response to this challenge, the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) and The Medical City (TMC), a premiere healthcare and research institution in the country, created the PCHRD-TMC Physician-Scientist Research Fellowship (PSRF). The PSRF program is a pioneer research fellowship program in the Philippines to develop the next leaders of health research and innovations in the country. With support from the PCHRD, the program will be able to expand our country’s pool of health research experts, especially those who can address the unmet medical needs of Filipinos.
Physician-Scientists are individuals who can find the balance between the field of medicine and the field of Research. They have the potential to bridge the ever-widening gap between practicing clinicians and health and clinical researchers. Physician-Scientists make the idea of “bench-to-bedside” a more straightforward concept. TMC has created avenues for effective and solid partnerships to enhance the country’s health research systems further. This program is made possible through the collaborative efforts of TMC’s Department of Advanced Medical Education (DEPAMED), The Medical City Ventures Office (TMCVO), and the Clinical and Translational Research Institute (CTRI), respectively headed by Dr. Maria Fe “Maffie” R. Tayzon, Dr. Barbara “Bambi” Baviera-Ronquillo, and Dr. Raul V. Destura. This public-private partnership aims to generate a unique brand of health researchers—the PCHRD-TMC Physician-Scientist Research Fellow.
The program is off to a momentous start in its first year, as international and local mentors have been appointed for the first two fellows of the program. Institution-to-institution collaborations have also been arranged. The three program heads conceptualized this pre-pandemic and ensured a clear vision of the start, middle, and end—what once was just an idea is now finally materializing. Led by Dr. Maffie Tayzon, the DEPAMED ensured that mentoring and coaching would be available for the fellows and that updates would be presented every week to keep the fellows on the right track. Before being admitted to the program, fellows underwent a thorough screening process, ensuring that the program chose only the cream of the crop. Dr. Raul Destura has also made the CTRI available for the fellows, providing valuable assistance with laboratory training. Under the CTRI, the fellows underwent training for Good Clinical Practice (GCP), Basic Statistical Analysis, Basic Data Collection, and Basic Laboratory Simulation Training, even before their mentorship with local and international clinicians and scientists began. His expertise and guidance to the fellows have been incredibly substantial.
Last but not least, the TMCVO, headed by Dr. Bambi Ronquillo, was integrated into the program to complete the vision. The TMCVO stands to protect the intellectual ideas and outputs of the fellows. Indeed, it is an end-to-end endeavor—a pioneer research fellowship program and is just the start of many firsts. An event was held at Augusto Barcelon Auditorium in TMC last June 24, 2022, to recognize these milestones.
Opening the event was TMC’s CEO and President, Dr. Eugenio F. Ramos, talking about the importance of Research in connection to leadership, “Research, or the quest for something new, something different, something that has never been thought about before, and putting these into action is the way that we can achieve the leadership that we aim for. We can become a good hospital, build a nice network, [set up] fancy buildings and all these things, but without leadership in thought, without leadership in Research, we are not going to last very long and we aim to be around in the long haul.” He also thanks the PCHRD and attributes TMC’s focus on Research due to its support. “We put focus on Research, but that would not encourage or inspire us if we did not have PCHRD and DOST acknowledging what we are doing – that by itself has made a lot of difference. The grants you’ve given us reflect the respect that we have earned, the respect that Medical City has earned in the area of Research, and we promise not to disappoint. We are moving forward.”
The guest speaker for the event was Dr. Jaime Montoya, Executive Director III of DOST-PCHRD. He recognized three program leaders present on stage in his speech: Dr. Maria Fe R. Tayzon, Dr. Raul V. Destura, and Dr. Barbara Baviera-Ronquillo. He also congratulated TMC’s endeavor as a private institution in pursuing Research. He emphasized physician-scientists’ importance: “I have a particular bias towards clinicians going into Research, with due courtesy to the non-clinicians. Why? Because you are from the best of both worlds. What more can you ask (for)? You are a clinician; you know what is needed in the clinics. You are also a scientist, so you know what basic Research can do. You know the possible solutions to address these problems. You put them together in one person—that is the best combination.” He ended his speech by acknowledging TMC and stressing the overall goal of the PCHRD: “I appreciate the efforts of The Medical City to partner with us in this endeavor. We would like to realize our mission; ultimately, our goal is to make the lives of our Filipinos better through health research. We acknowledge the specific roles we have to fulfill and play in this partnership. We are excited to foster the next generation of physician-scientists in the Philippines.”
The PSRF program focuses on the four research tracks based on the National Unified Health Research Agenda (NUHRA): the Biomedical Research Track, the Information and Communications Technology (ICT)/Systems Engineering Track, the Cellular Medicine Track, and the Molecular Medicine Track. This year, the competitive program accepted two fellows to be supervised by two kinds of mentors: clinician-mentors and scientist-mentors.
“It’s been eye-opening. During our clinical training as residents, you’re very much siloed into what you’re doing: your clinical practice, your specialization. But there’s this whole other world of opportunities and information that we only get a glimpse of during our training. But now that I’m here in this program, it’s overwhelming—the number of innovations and changes that are happening outside of our common clinical practice. Amazing,” says Dr. Gabriel Baluyut, an orthopedic surgeon in his first year of the Fellowship Program. He is on the ICT/ Systems Engineering Track. In less than a year, he has learned Python’s key concepts and advanced functions, a programming language, and Machine Learning and Deep Learning. For him, the best thing about the program is that “it gives us the ability to do cutting-edge research and learn new things that you really wouldn’t typically learn from your usual clinical settings.” He is developing two protocols focusing on making osteoporosis diagnostic testing more accessible. He is under the guidance of his two mentors, Dr. Cesar Dimayuga, the Chairman of TMC’s Department of Orthopedics, and Dr. Vladimer Kobayashi, a Certified Analytics Professional from UP Mindanao.
Dr. Alma Calavera is taking the Cellular Medicine track, a hematologist always on the lookout for new advancements in cellular therapy. “The reason I joined this program is that I wanted to improve cancer treatment in the Philippines. In my practice, I’ve seen many patients suffering from hematologic malignancies, and I want to offer them more treatment options in the Philippines at a more affordable cost.” When asked how her first year in the program is going, she said: “For me, it’s been a challenging and interesting year. We had several collaborations with my mentors, particularly Dr. Felipe Prósper (from the Universidad de Navarra). I’m very honored to be mentored by him. As you know, Dr. Felipe Prósper is the leader of cellular therapy in Spain, and he was very courteous enough to take this endeavor with us.” At the moment, Dr. Calavera is also drafting two protocols under the guidance of her two mentors, Dr. Felipe Prósper, Head of the Cellular Therapy Unit of the Universidad de Navarra in Spain, and Dr. Vasiliki Kalodimou, the Director of the Flow Cytometry—Research and Regenerative Medicine Department of the IASO Maternity Hospital of Athens in Greece. She’s also been supplementing the training with her mentors by taking Cellular Manufacturing courses from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Cellular Therapy courses from the Association for the Advancement of Blood & Biotherapies (AABB).
One year may have come and gone, but this is just the beginning. In the words of PCHRD’s Executive Director, Dr. Montoya, “We look forward to more productive projects, and I hope we will sustain this indefinitely. We’ll provide all the possible support we can provide. But, most importantly, we’d like the interest, enthusiasm, and commitment of our new, current, and maybe future physician-scientists – because you will be the driving force to keep this program going.”
As the famous saying goes—and as Dr. Tayzon has mentioned during the event—”Papunta pa lang tayo sa exciting part.”
Are you interested in becoming one of the first few physician-scientists under the program? Access all the contact details and the application kit here or scan the QR code below.