DOST-NRCP Vice President Dr. Raul V. Destura, the Scientist behind the First Local COVID-19 Testing Kit

“As a clinician-scientist, I continuously try to narrow down the gap between Basic Science, Medical Science, Biotechnology and Community Service by forging strong collaboration among disciplines to reach focused goal. My research bench to community approach is ultimately geared towards developing low-cost technologies for the control of infectious diseases in the Philippines and the generation of new knowledge to find sustainable and equitable solutions to disease of poverty” – Dr. Raul V. Destura (source: http://nih.upm.edu.ph/content/destura-raul-v)

Dr. Destura2

 

Dr. Raul V. Destura stressing a point during the mid-year review of the DOST-NRCP National Integrated Basic Research Agenda (NIBRA).

On April 1, 2020, the banner story of the day which reverberated across social media, print, radio and television broadcast was the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Advisory No. 2020-513 Approving the First Locally Manufactured Test Kit for COVID-19 for Commercial Use. It was a “just-in-time” scenario for the Philippines when it badly needed test kits for COVID-19 cases. It is a much-awaited result of research and development (R&D) which was conducted immediately when the COVID-19 startled the whole world in January 2020. This completely upholds the DOST mantra R&D making change happen.

The test kit was previously approved by the FDA for field trial with gene sequencing on 10 March 2020.  Upon the submission of necessary requirements, the FDA issued a certification for the COVID-19 test kit to be allowed for commercial use.

The FDA Advisory confirmed that this is the first locally made PCR based COVID-19 test kit approved by the FDA which was developed in collaboration with the University of the Philippines-National Institute of Health (UP-NIH), funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

In another milestone, DOST also supported the establishment of the Manila HealthTek Inc., the spinoff company that will produce the COVID-19 test kits. Manila HealthTek, Inc. reported that the first batch of reagents has arrived which will enable them to start the manufacturing process to create testing kits that can accommodate up to 120,000 tests. A certain number of testing kits that can do up to 26,000 tests will be prioritized by the DOST for field implementation and distribution to the Philippine General HospitalMakati Medical CenterThe Medical CityVicente Sotto Memorial Medical CenterSouthern Philippines Medical Center, and Baguio General Hospital.

From April 4 to 25, there will be a field implementation for the 26,000 tests funded under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the University of the Philippines-National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH) Project.

The remaining testing kits good for around 94,000 tests will be sold commercially by Manila HealthTek at around P1,300 per kit which is cheaper than the units currently being used in hospitals which cost about P8,000. The Manila HealthTek said they have enough orders from the private sector who intend to donate them in turn to the Department of Health (DOH) and hospitals.

Dr. Destura in the mainstream of infectious diseases

Presidential Lingkod Bayan 2019 Awardee, Dr. Raul V. Destura is a known scientist and molecular microbiologist who is also known for developing local and less costly diagnostic kits for rapid detection of the most dreaded infectious diseases such as dengue, hepatitis and tuberculosis. Notable of these is the Biotek-M, a rapid test kit for dengue that is projected to be more affordable especially among average Filipino families that may not be able to afford the existing and sensitive yet more expensive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology. This new technology is hoped to advance the diagnostic capability of the hospitals for better management of the dengue disease. Biotek-M is currently being rolled out to three government hospitals, namely Rizal Medical Center, the National Children’s Hospital, and the Philippine Children’s Medical Center for field testing.

Dr. Destura’s versatility is exhibited by the establishment of two world-class molecular biology laboratories, the Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Research Laboratory at the UP NIH and the Clinical Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory of the Medical City under his leadership.

He is also a recipient of several prestigious national and international awards for his innovative research and leadership in the field of research and clinical molecular biology such as the Gold Medal given during the International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva (Salon International Des Inventions Geneve), Geneva, Switzerland in April 2018, International Training and Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases (ITREID) Research Fellowship Award from the Center for Global Health Division of Infectious Disease and International Health, University of Virginia; the Bill and Melinda Gates Travel Scholarship for 2005 Keystone Symposia; Outstanding Young Scientist of the Philippines in 2008, University of the Philippines’ Research Productivity Award in 2011, The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of the Philippines in 2011. Gawad Agham 2015, Outstanding Alumni in Microbiology of the University of Santo Tomas, 2015 Outstanding Alumni in Medicine of the De La Salle University and the prestigious 2015 Dr. Jose Rizal Memorial Award in Research given by the Philippine Medical Association.

At the NRCP, Dr. Destura was named the 2015 Dr. Eusebio Y. Garcia awardee. The Award is given annually to Filipino scientists in recognition of their outstanding research contributions in the fields of Molecular Biology and Molecular Pathology. The award was founded by Dr. Eusebio Y. Garcia in 1985 to encourage more researchers to venture into this field and also to recognize the ground-breaking researches made by the Filipinos in the said field.

In June 2018, immunization became a hot topic in the Philippines primarily because of the Dengvaxia scare. In the midst of the controversy, the NRCP made a categorical pronouncement on the importance of vaccines. The NRCP statement crafted by Dr. Destura stated that “Scientific evidence has clearly demonstrated that vaccines have dramatically eradicated small pox and polio and have greatly reduced child mortality in the Philippines and in many parts of the world.. The NRCP stands by the government efforts to sustain its immunization programs as we strongly urge the public to pay attention to the knowledge claim of scientists on the beneficial effects of immunization”.

And on March 7, 2020 while in the midst of isolation for his research work on the COVID-19 test kits, he was consulted by NRCP President Dr. Ramon A. Razal when DOH raised Red Code Alert on COVID-19 on Saturday, 7 March 2020. March 9, 2020 was the schedule of NRCP’s biggest annual event – The Annual Scientific Conference and 87th General Assembly at the PICC, Manila – with an anticipated 1,200 participants from all over the country.

Dr. Destura recommended for the postponement of the activity in view of the already escalating curve of COVID-19 transmission globally. It was a bold and unpopular decision at that time but Dr. Razal, upon consultation with the NRCP Governing Board and the expert advice of Dr. Raul V. Destura, announced the postponement of the NRCP annual event. Eventually, the decision became the Council’s contribution to the national efforts to prevent the risk of further local or community transmission of COVID-19. (Maria Elena A. Talingdan, DOST-NRCP)