The Philippines has received the go signal to join other countries in a collaborative effort organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) aimed at developing an effective cure for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Department of Health (DOH) Usec. Maria Rosario Vergeire, in a virtual press briefing, said the DOH received a go signal from the Single Joint Research Ethics Board (SJREB), the unit organized by the DOH to conduct a harmonized review of health-related research protocols, on April 17 to participate in the clinical trial for treatment of novel coronavirus.
Vergeire said the clinical trial will test four different drugs or combinations — remdesivir, a combination of two drugs, lopinavir and ritonavir, the two drugs plus interferon beta, and chloroquine – and will compare their effectiveness to what is called standard of care, that is, the regular support hospitals treating COVID-19 patients use now.
Vergeire said the study is in line with WHO’s rapid global search for drugs that can treat the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 2.5 million globally. More than 100 countries joined the solidarity trials.
She said the trials will be conducted in 20 hospitals nationwide including at least 500 patients. These are the following: Philippine General Hospital, The Medical City, San Lazaro Hospital, Lung Center of the Philippines, Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, Baguio General Hospital,East Avenue Medical Center. Makati Medica Center, St. Lukes Medical Center Global, St. Lukes Medical Center Quezon City,
University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Medical Center, Cardinal Santos Medical Center, Manila Doctors Hospital, Manila Medical Center, Chinese General Hospital, San Juan de Dios Medical Center, Diliman Doctors Hospital, University of Santo Tomas Hospital, Vicente Sotto Medical Center, Southern Phil Medical Center and World Citi Medical Center.
The DOH will provide information Friday if they have completed all the necessary documents to start the clinical trials.
Earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte offered P10-million reward to any Filipino who will discover a vaccine against SARS CoV-2 or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, is the virus that causes COVID-19.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson noted this offer would mean much more if the government invested more on research and development than the token annual average share of 0.4 percent from the General Appropriations Act.
“We only need to look at how much the most prosperous countries spend on R&D to see why we are among the laggards,” said Lacson.
“Even if we bump up the percentage to 1 or 2 percent of the national budget, it would make a major difference,” he added.
Meanwhile, Philippine General Hospital (PGH) spokesperson Dr. Jonas Del Rosario has renewed his appeal to COVID-19 survivors for plasma donations.
“Their antibodies may help save patients who are still battling the disease, especially the severe and critical cases,” said Del Rosario as he noted that Filipinos continue to suffer and some eventually die from COVID-19.
“There is no proven treatment yet for this although different medications and regimens are being investigated. And the vaccine against the novel coronavirus is not yet available. That is why we are calling for plasma donations from COVID-19 survivors,” he said.
Known as convalescent plasma therapy, the treatment is a century-old technique that has been tried and tested on numerous illnesses, most recently for diseases such as Ebola, SARS, MERS, and Swine Flu. It involves the transfusion of plasma, the liquid component of blood, from a recovered patient to a sick patient.
Much like other organizations around the world, the PGH sees plasma therapy as a possible stop-gap to hold the virus at bay while more complex treatments are developed.
“A vaccine is a year out, but what if we can use the antibodies of those who have already survived to strengthen the immune system of those still battling the virus,” said Del Rosario.
Since beginning the experimental treatment very recently, the PGH has received over 90 inquiries with more than 21 passing the criteria and at least 19 having already donated plasma. At least 5 COVID-19 patients were able to receive transfusions.
“Right now, we are taking care of over 100 COVID-19 patients in the PGH, and some of those are severe and critical cases who have exhausted all other treatment options with no success. For them, plasma therapy could be the last resort. That’s why we’re looking for more donors,” said Dr. Del Rosario.
He said plasma donation process for COVID-19 survivors is fairly straightforward.
When a prospective donor calls the PGH hotline, he or she is first evaluated over the phone. Once found eligible to donate, PGH personnel will conduct a home visit to get informed consent and a blood sample. After that, the donor is invited to the College of Medicine in UP Manila to donate.
For all COVID-19 survivors who want to donate, you may call the PGH hotline at 155-200./Stacy Ang