Virus research center to rise in Clark?

We are reminded to be hopeful as we embrace the new normal during and after this pandemic but for now we have to live with the Coronavirus or COVID19 until the vaccine is developed. Worldwide confirmed cases are 8.9 million and the infection numbers spike on a daily basis. In the Philippines alone, the latest report for confirmed cases are 30,052 with 7,893 recovered and 1,169 deaths.

Recently, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) is seeking to establish a virology institute in preparation for another pandemic because what we are now experiencing globally can occur again in the future and pointed out that the development of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics ‘requires very good research on viruses.’ It is very important to keep a virus gene bank, virus genome laboratory and virus reference laboratory, however, the Philippines have no research and development facility that could pave the way for studies on viruses that attack humans, animals and crops such as abaca, papaya, mango and banana. The DOST also plans to look into the possible benefits of local herbal medicine “lagundi” and “tawa-tawa” to COVID-19 patients, but they need to be sent to a specialty laboratory abroad, so scientists could learn about them as much as possible before they are tested on humans.

DOST secretary Fortunato Boy Dela Pena said the virology institute in New Clark City will focus on vector/reservoir transmission, viral ecology, clinical virology, pathogenesis, pathophysiology, and host immune response to viral pathogens in strategic partnerships with some of the world’s leading scientists, virology centers, and institutes.  Dela Pena is a native of Bulacan and former chairman of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development.  Meanwhile, the Muntinlupa City-based Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) currently specializes in planning and implementing research programs for infectious and tropical diseases. Since 2000, the RITM’s Department of Virology serves as the national reference laboratory for poliomyelitis and other enteroviruses, measles and other exanthema, dengue, Japanese encephalitis and other arboviruses, influenza and other respiratory viruses. It is also a WHO-recognized National Influenza Center. It is currently the primary COVID-19 testing facility.

Congress is cognizant. The proposed plan of the DOST was supported by both chambers of Congress. At least half the total members of the House of Representatives have underscored the necessity of creating a special virology research institute. Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda and Rep. Cheryl Deloso Montalla of Zambales filed separate bills for the creation of a Virology Institute of the Philippines (VIP). The bills gathered at least 158 co-authors. Salceda said preparation yields the best outcomes. The same goes for pandemics. The official site of the proposed Virology Institute of the Philippines (VIP) is within the New Clark City. It shall serve as the premier research and development institute in the field of virology, encompassing all areas in viruses and viral diseases in humans, plants, and animals and venue for scientists, here and abroad, to work collaboratively to study viruses of agricultural, industrial, clinical, and environmental importance. 

For the same purpose, Senator Panfilo Lacson filed a counterpart bill, in his version the VIP shall be headed by a director and two deputy directors, one for research and development, and another one for support, policy, and linkages. The governing board shall be the principal policy-making body for scientific and technological activities of the Institute. It shall be composed of different departments such as DOST, DOH, DA, UP, and three representatives from the private sector elected by the ex-officio board members. 

Lacson also declared the New Clark City as the official site of VIP.  A lot with an area equivalent to at least five (5) hectares under the administration of the BCDA within the New Clark City in Tarlac shall be allocated exclusively for the institute, its research facilities, and laboratories. The biosafety infrastructure shall be designed based on risk assessment for handling specific pathogens following WHO’s guidelines on the establishment of a virology laboratory in developing countries. An initial virology research fund of two billion pesos is appropriated and the VIP is authorized to use all of the income generated from its operations, as well as donations, bequests, grants for the upgrading of its physical and human resources, and for the augmentation of its budget, in case of a shortfall.

Our well-renowned virologist is Veronica F. Chan, PhD, professor emeritus, UP Department of Medical Microbiology. She is one of the pillars of UP’s College of Public Health (CPH). Graduating in 1954 with a degree in BS Hygiene. She later pursued a Ph.D. virology degree at the Yale University. Due to her expertise in virology and immunology, CPH was designated by WHO as its National Influenza Collaborating Center in the Philippines until 1998. Currently, Dr. Chan is a professor emeritus at the CPH and holds the distinction of academician of the National Academy of Science and Technology.

An entry level virologist (1-3 years of experience) earns an average annual salary of ₱324,439. On the other end, a senior level virologist (8+ years of experience) earns an average annual salary of ₱568,586. To become a virologist you should earn a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, or a related field, doctor of medicine degree or a doctor of philosophy degree with training in virology, molecular virology, viral oncology, or immunology, and 3 to 5 years’ postdoctoral research experience in the field.


FEEDBACK: (Column entitled, “Senior citizens free access to movie theaters nationwide”)

Juden L. Sarmiento, real estate broker

Wow! Another timely and very relevant article! You always hit the nail in the head straight on. Kudos again Sir Mark! I agree that there is a growing population of senior citizens in the coming years which maybe attributed to the baby boomers in the 60’s-70’s now ageing gracefully. How I wish that the government can still have programs like in Manila LGU, to accept seniors as employees, yes even in fast food chains. Let’s have another perspective of a senior. For them being not just a pensioner, retiree, persons that relies on gov’t. aids and discounts. 

Why don’t we make them productive based on their abilities. I hope this government prepare a retirement program on what a soon-to-retire senior can still productively do and continue to be one in nation building. If we prepare a college student for employment, then let us prepare the soon-to-retire citizens with such program too.  I may need one such program soon hahaha. Luckily in my industry, retirement is not a matter of age, but a matter of choice. We’ll wait for your next article. Love reading them.

Bro Miguel Morales, senior pastor, Maui Evangelical Church, Hawaii, USAThank you Mark AC Sison for bringing the care of our seniors in the forefront. It’s not only the right thing to do but the nation will be blessed in doing so. “Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12). Salamat for keeping an eye on issues relevant to the people.