2021 budget to fund new virus research center

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    A NEW research center tasked to study emerging viruses will get an initial funding of P283 million under the P4.506-trillion proposed national budget for 2021 as the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

    The Virology Science and Technology Institute (VSTI) which will operate under the Department of Science and Technology will zero in on the study of viruses found in wildlife animals that could possibly infect people and threaten public health, said Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas, a vice chair of the House committee on appropriations.

    “Once fully operational, the VSTI will enable Filipino scientists to identify evolving viruses in different species of animals,” Gullas said. “They will then be in a position to ascertain those viruses that could pose the greatest risk of infecting people and spreading between people.”

    The institute, which is expected to run a modern laboratory with high biosafety measures, is set to establish its facilities at the Clark Special Economic Zone in Tarlac.

    A new coronavirus not previously been seen in humans, called SARS-CoV-2, caused what is now the COVID-19 disease that has become a pandemic that has killed at least a million people worldwide.

    The Philippines has at least 370,000 cases as of Sunday.

    REMDESIVIR

    The Department of Health said it is closely looking into the approval of the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of remdesivir as the first treatment for COVID-19.

    The US FDA announced the approval of the antiviral drug Veklury (remdesivir) on October 22, “for use in adult and pediatric patients 12 years of age and older and weighing at least 40 kilograms (about 88 pounds) for the treatment of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization.”

    “Veklury should only be administered in a hospital or in a healthcare setting capable of providing acute care comparable to inpatient hospital care,” it also said.

    The approval came despite interim results of the World Health Organization’s Solidarity Trial on COVID-19 Therapeutics showing remdesivir having little or no effect on COVID-19 patients.

    The DOH said it is looking at conducting a parallel evaluation of remdesivir to see if it can be used in the Philippines.

    For the moment, the DOH said patients may avail of remdesivir after securing a compassionate special permit from the FDA in the Philippines.

    “Remdesivir will continue to be available for compassionate use, according to PSMID (Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases) guidelines, until these are modified accordingly,” said the DOH.

    Remdesivir, which is an antiviral drug originally developed to treat Ebola, is believed to help COVID-19 patients recover faster.

    US President Donald Trump is the most high-profile COVID-19 patient known to have been treated with remdesivir. – With Gerard Naval