The biodiversity of the Philippines can provide the ingredients for many medical products and help to expand pharmaceutical research and manufacturing in the country, an award-winning researcher said.
“There are endemic plants, insects, marine organisms, minerals (in the country) that could be a source of pharmacological interventions in diseases,” Joven Apostol, a pharmacy professor at the University of Sto. Tomas said.
Apostol was recently named a 2017 Outstanding Filipino Researcher by the Department of Science and Technology – National Research Council of the Philippines (DOST-NRCP).
Apostol said that the number of foreign pharmaceutical manufacturers in the Philippines has declined as many have shifted their operations to the other countries, but that has encouraged local researchers and manufacturers to increase their activity.
“It has awakened the Filipino spirit to become more entrepreneurial and there has been a growth spike in drug research and development in academic and research institutes and local manufacturers focusing on endemic biomaterials,” he said. “This is also partly due to the encouragement and support of the science and technology agencies of the government and other funding agencies.”
Research is crucial in drug development, Apostol stressed.
“A pharmaceutical product is only good as it is safe and effective,” he said. “A drug molecule will not advance to formulation and manufacturing without the preliminary data on its safety, effect, mechanism of action, toxicity and others —basic information on drug source, synthesis, kinetics and interactions which can only be provided by basic research.”
Basic pharmacology research involves screening promising biomaterials for their effects on the physical and chemical processes of the living organism and on the nature and courses of diseases. The basic research identifies which biomaterials may be useful in drug products and guides further study leading to formulation and clinical testing.
Apostol said that gains in the growth of the pharmaceutical sector would be sustained by continuous support to both basic and applied research, ultimately reducing the country’s reliance on imported or foreign-produced medicines.
“Given the right support, structure, formation of scientists, industry, and government, it is possible that in five to ten years, the country is halfway in terms of drug discovery,” Apostol said, meaning that the creation of new medicines from endemic biomaterials would be at the midpoint of the long process. By that time, a drug being developed should be in the clinical trial phase and the company doing the development should have spent half a billion dollars, he added.
DOST-NRCP is the country’s lead agency in basic research. Its mandate is to promote and support basic and problem-oriented research in the sciences as well as in the humanities, particularly multidisciplinary research. DOST-NRCP specifically supports research that identifies and provides solutions to national issues and problems, and generates new knowledge in preparation for the future.
In June, DOST-NRCP will host the 17th Science Council of Asia Conference, which will be attended by researchers from 31 academic institutions and organizations in 18 member countries across Asia.