By Daniel Llanto

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) is conducting a clinical study on tawa-tawa as a possible support treatment for mild to moderate cases of the coronavirus.

In a weekly virtual press brief, DOST Sec. Fortunato dela Peña said the Department of Health (DOH) Ethics Review board approved the research and development project on tawa-tawa (scientific name: euphorbia hirta) as an adjunctive treatment against COVID-19.

The study on tawa-tawa was added as one of the research initiatives being funded by the DOST in its effort to help the national government fight COVID-19, along with those on virgin coconut oil (VCO) and lagundi. Like lagundi, tawa-tawa grows wild in backyards.

DOST through the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) is one of the lead agencies in the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) Sub-Technical Working Group (TWG) that will select the foreign pharmaceutical and research institutions developing a COVID-19 vaccine that the Philippines will collaborate with to ensure a vaccine supply for the country.

De la Peña said the sub-TWG has been recast into the Task Group on Vaccine Evaluation and Selection in view of the designation of National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer Sec. Carlito Galvez as vaccine czar by Malacañang.

The DOST-PCHRD has shelled out a PHP89.1-million fund for Phase 3 clinical trials on candidate COVID-19 vaccines in the country.

The DOH reported that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases nationwide recently soared to 407,838 with the addition of 1,530 new cases.

The DOH also reported that additional 11,290 recoveries brought to 374,329 the number of those who recuperated from the disease. The figure comprised 91.8 percent of the total confirmed cases.

With 41 newly recorded deaths, the number of COVID-related fatalities rose to 7,832 or 1.92 percent of total cases. Active cases stand at 25,677 with 91 percent classified as mild and asymptomatic.

Cavite posted the highest number of newly reported COVID-19 cases with 90, followed by Rizal with 84 and Manila with 79. Davao City recorded 78 new cases and Taguig 73.

On the country’s search for vaccine, DOH said Australian company Vaxine Pty Ltd has expressed interest in conducting a clinical trial of its coronavirus vaccine candidate in the country.

De la Peña said the biotechnology firm based in Australia has informed the Department that it is willing to conduct clinical trial and manufacturing of its potential vaccines against COVID-19 in the Philippines.

“It is quite recent in terms of expressing interest,” De la Peña said in a forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines. He did not provide other details.

Vaxine’s candidate vaccine is said to combine “viral proteins with an adjuvant that stimulates the immune system.”  The Phase 2 trial for the candidate vaccine is expected to begin by the end of the year. Phase 2 studies involve up to several hundred individuals and aim to define the optimal dose and safety profile of vaccine candidates.

Earlier, the vaccine candidate of Chinese drug maker Sinovac Biotech hurdled the initial stage of screening for clinical trials in the country after passing the review of the vaccine experts panel chaired by the DOST. It is still undergoing the evaluation of the Single Joint Ethics Research Board.

The World Health Organization-led solidarity trial for COVID-19 vaccines will start in September in the Philippines. It was initially scheduled to begin by end-October.

The country is in talks with 17 companies as it seeks to source a vaccine that will help end one of the worst outbreaks in Southeast Asia.

The Philippines’ COVID-19 caseload reached 371,630 on November 16, with 7,039 deaths.