ILOILO City – The Philippine Genome Center (PGC) Visayas received P92.6 million from the Department of Budget and Management to enhance its biosurveillance through timely whole genome sequencing (WGS) of clinical samples.
WGS is vital to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response of the government. It can be used to detect new variants, if the variants are causing the spike in cases in certain areas, and if there are already local transmissions of the variants.
PGC Visayas, based at the University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV) in Miag-ao, Iloilo, will have Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) equipment and manpower on par with the PGC main facility in Diliman, Quezon City so it could process SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing COVID-19) samples.
Specifically, the funds will be used to procure two Illumina NextSeq Sequencers, eight standard PCR (polymerase chain reaction) machines for DNA library preparations, and additional lab equipment and peripherals; and reagents and kits, among others.
PGC-Visayas is hopeful that additional funding will be sourced, especially that budget for the reagents, kits and personnel salaries is only enough for six months.
Earlier, the Department of Health (DOH) and the UP-PGC, in coordination with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), announced that they are now closer to strengthening the country’s biosurveillance capacity with the approval of the P295.7-million budget needed for the expansion of the UP-PGC in Visayas and Mindanao.
Aside from detecting COVID-19 variants, genomic biosurveillance plays a big role in determining causes of outbreaks; tracking how a virus is transmitted; and complementing disease surveillance in guiding the overall public health response even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
The current capacity of the UP-PGC is sequencing approximately 750 samples a week, but logistical limitations pose a challenge for regions to regularly send their samples to Manila.
The availability of the highly-technical equipment and tools for the WGS in Visayas and Mindanao is beneficial for the regions’ current COVID-19 response and for surveillance of other diseases.
The sequencing effort takes off from the molecular biology equipment that the DOST-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development has initially put in place in PGC Visayas and Mindanao.
UP-PGC Executive Director, Dr. Cynthia Saloma said they have been working with the DOH, DOST and the UP-National Institutes of Health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said the partnership has highlighted the importance of the country’s biosurveillance capacity in disease prevention and control.
“May this partnership lay down the foundations of further improving our biosurveillance capacity,” said Saloma.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, meanwhile, said the partnership between the DOH, UP and DOST always helped deliver a better pandemic response.
“By strengthening the country’s biosurveillance capacity, we hope to prevent future outbreaks of diseases in the Philippines,” said Duque.
(This article was first published in the Panay News Website on September 3, 2021)