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R&D takes spotlight as Fauci lauds PHL scientists’ works

Top US epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci and Science Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña speak at the online 43rd Annual Scientific Meeting of the DOST-National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines on July 13.

The country’s growing investments in research and development (R&D)—led by the research-driven Department of Science and Technology (DOST)—took the spotlight as the US’s leading expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, recently lauded the valuable contributions of Filipino scientists, particularly in biomedical research.

The Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST-PCIEERD) thanked Fauci for his support “to putting investments in R&D” in the country.

In a statement, DOST-PCIEERD took the opportunity to call on the Philippines’ lawmakers to “heed his [Fauci’s] call” as the country prepares the budget for 2022.

The DOST agency plans to fund 127 projects worth a total of P1.8 billion. The projects will be implemented by 57 research and development institutes and higher education institutions in various regions in the country.

Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), in his speech commended the “collaborative research between the Philippines and NIAID-funded programs on HIV and tuberculosis co-infections” and the role of Philippine institutions—particularly the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine—in “infectious diseases research in dengue, malaria and other infectious pathogens.”

Fauci gave his keynote address at the opening of the DOST-National Academy of Science and Technology Philippines’ (DOST-NAST PHL) 43rd Annual Scientific Meetitng (ASM) held online on July 13.

Robust R&D system needed

Fauci emphasized in his message the “importance of sustained local support for scientists and scientific institutions in the Philippines and elsewhere.”

“This support is the necessary foundation to attract funding from outside the country. It is also an essential element for economic vitality and growth,” he said.

The DOST-PCIEERD urged for support for the technologies that the agency churns out. It also called “on the industry to take a look at [our] valuable R&D products to license, adopt or commercialize, and see how it can improve their systems and processes.”

It said: “There is a need for a robust R&D system that can withstand disruptions and be resilient in challenging times,” as the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted.

The Council likewise called on the Filipinos to “continue supporting our researchers who continuously make innovations work for the people.”

Meanwhile, in his opening message at the ASM, Science Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña recalled that “upon assuming [his] post, one of our strategies is contract research and adopting a ‘demand-pul’ strategy for R&D.”

“Through this, R&D institutes develop technologies based on the needs of the sector they serve,” he said.

De la Peña said the Science Department is now implementing “high-end and big-ticket programs and projects.”

“Today’s emergency health crisis put to the fore the capabilities and ingenuity of Filipino scientists and researchers to come up with immediate and innovative responses to Covid-19 and mitigate its impacts,” he said.

Strategies against future pandemics

The ASM is the premier gathering of the Philippine science community where representatives from both public and private institutions formulate science-based recommendations for the President and Cabinet members.  

Guided by this year’s theme, “Covid-19 Pandemic: Learning from the Past, Coping with the Present, Moving to the Next,” the DOST-NAST PHL aimed to identify the existing gaps and problems in healthcare delivery and health infrastructure, which are critical in the development and implementation of strategic programs to confront the pandemic.

De la Peña said the theme was “very timely and relevant as nations around the world not only continue the battle against Covid-19, but also embark on strategies to prevent future pandemics from happening again and creating long-term or perhaps even irreversible damage to people, our society and the world.”

Foresight Project; Future Earth Program

He also expressed his appreciation to the NAST PHL for completing early this year the country’s science-technology-innovation (STI) Foresight document “Pagtanaw 2050.”

“Allow me to acknowledge the NAST members who tirelessly spent days and nights to come up with a Philippine STI Foresight Project,” he said.

This is a prime example, he said, that the Philippines has been using science for the improvement of the lives of people.

“I am glad that the Academy stood up to my challenge to spearhead the formulation of the said document, which presents significant drivers of change and provides insights and reflections on plausible STI development paths that will impact on the aspirations of the Filipino people by 2050,” he said.  

The foresight, he said, is “firmly grounded on a shared vision of a United and Inclusive, Prosperous, and Sustainable Maritime Archipelagic Nation.”

“This nation’s aspirations are within the context of the country’s natural and physical endowments—an archipelago with abundant marine resources—as well as our shared Filipino values and skills, and other potentials as embodied in our Constitution and other national documents,” de la Peña said.

The completion of the foresight study is expected to jumpstart the formulation of the successor plan of the Science and Technology Master Plan 2000-2022, according the country’s Science chief.

De la Peña also cited the DOST-funded Future Earth Philippines (FEP) program that was initiated by National Scientist Lourdes J. Cruz. It aims to boost the country’s capacity to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and “Ambisyon” 2040.

Various capacity building workshops for researchers, government agencies and civil society groups have been organized under the FEP program since 2018 to assist the stakeholders in generating Knowledge-to-Action Programs and other sustainability initiatives. The program also links the country with regional and global sustainability initiatives.

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