The Philippines is the only middle-income country in Asia that does not produce vaccines for its own people, according to a Filipino scientist.
Dr. Annabelle Villalobos, a consultant of Johnson & Johnson Biopharmaceuticals, and a “Balik Scientist” (returning scientist) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said:
“That is something we need to work on in preparation for another pandemic, or for the time that we really have to supply people with vaccines.”
Villalobos, speaking at an online seminar on health research and development for COVID-19, said that while the country is not yet ready to develop and manufacture its own vaccines, it can start with the rather basic process.
Simple processes like formulating, filling, and packaging these shots — where the active product ingredients will be imported in bulk from other countries. That would lessen the country’s vaccine dependency and vulnerability to pandemics such as COVID-19.
“If the [formulation, filling, and packaging] would be done, it could create at least 250 jobs for scientists, engineers, and personnel in the allied fields,” she said.
Dr Villalobos received her BS in chemistry from the University of Panama, and her Ph.D. (1987) from the University of Kansas. She was a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow at Yale University.
She joined Pfizer in 1989, working on a variety of Central nervous system (CNS) projects in medicinal chemistry, diagnostics, and Positron emission tomography imaging radiotracers against Alzheimer's disease.
In 2001, Villalobos became Head of CNS Medicinal Chemistry, and in 2007 Head of Antibacterial and CNS Chemistry. By 2016, she was VP of Neuroscience and Pain medicinal chemistry, and published a video outreach campaign to describe her work. In 2017, Villalobos was recruited to be the Senior Vice President for Biotherapeutics & Medicinal Sciences at Biogen.
Vaccines development and manufacturing needs extensive academic and laboratory training and expertise that is notch higher and more specialised than the formulation, filling, and packaging.
There’s a higher bar for dealing with raw materials, auditing suppliers, and validation, she added.
If the country, however, would become a filling facility, it would then be the initial step that would eventually train the workforce to produce the vaccines.
The scientist noted that it was timely that the establishment of the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines (VIP) is already underway.
The DOST has been given a P284-million funding to purchase equipment intended for the research activities of VIP.
Rowena Cristina Guevara, DOST Undersecretary, said that the soon-to-rise institute would be the country’s virology research facility, that would be tasked to develop vaccines.
Guevara said in April the Philippines might start producing COVID vaccines by late 2022, through a local pharmaceutical company.