By Corina Oliquino

MANILA — Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Undersecretary for Research and Development Rowena Cristina Guevara said it is possible the World Health Organization (WHO) Solidarity Trials for candidate COVID-19 vaccines including Sputnik V developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Institute could start within this month.

Guevara, who also chairs the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF)  said the WHO is still finalizing the list of potential vaccines and clinical trial protocol, noting the confidential data agreements (CDAs) entered into by the Philippine government with six institutions and pharmaceutical companies namely  Adimmune of Taiwan; Seqirus of Australia; Russia’s Gamaleya Institute; Sinovac, Sinopharm and Anhui Zhifei, all from China “will pave the way for the conduct of local clinical trials for their respective candidate COVID-19 vaccines.”

“There are so many candidate vaccines. At this point in time, the WHO vaccine landscape still includes all six,” Guevara said, noting all six are included in the WHO list.

Guevara noted that they are also talking to other companies or institutions having ongoing COVID-19 vaccine development projects.

At least ₱89.1 million has been allocated by the DOST for the country’s participation in the trials with Sec Fortunato dela Peña assuring earlier their department was willing to increase budget allocation for the program should the fund be inadequate.

Avigan trials could start this week

In a report by The Philippine Star and Agence France Presse, the Department of Health (DOH) through Undersec. Maria Rosario Vergeire said the delayed clinical trials of Japanese anti-flu drug Avigan on COVID-19 patients may start this week.

Vergeire cited processing delays including the clinical agreement signed by the DOH and the University of the Philippines on the nine-month clinical trials initially slated on August 17.

“We just need to fix the database for this information system of the electronic data capture form. And hopefully, this week, we can begin,” Vergeire said.

The DOH has allocated ₱18 million for the trials, where some 100 patients of the Philippine General Hospital, Santa Ana Hospital, Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital and Quirino Memorial Medical Center will participate.

In 2014, Fujifilm Toyama Chemical Co. developed Avigan (the brand name of favipiravir) was approved for use in Japan in flu outbreaks and can only be manufactured and distributed at the request of the Japanese government.

“Clinical trials in China suggested that Avigan could play a role in shortening the recovery time for patients who have contracted the new coronavirus. However, there are concerns about the drug’s side effects such as birth defects,” the report noted.

DOH to consider applying Trump’s COVID-19 antibody treatment

In another report by ABS-CBN News, the DOH said it is eyeing the application of experimental antibody treatment by US biotech firm Regeneron used on US President Donald Trump following his COVID-19 diagnosis after an official study on the drug has been published and reviewed in a reputable journal.

Regeneron has been working on the antibody treatment since March.

“Iyan pong artikulo na iyan it is not published in a scientific journal which is a requirement para masabi natin na that is good evidence,” Vergeire said during a virtual briefing.

So, aantayin natin kung sakali. It has to go through a regulatory process as well,” she said, referring to publication in a scientific journal and undergoing peer review and adding added that only a press release was posted but no study has been done.

“But if it’s going to be introduced here tayo naman ay bukas sa mga ganyan as long as it is found to be safe and effectivepara sa ating mga kababayan,” she added, noting the Philippine government “is always looking at technologies, drugs, and methods that can be used locally, as long as these were proven accurate and safe.”