With nearly 110 million people, the Philippines is the 13th most populated nation worldwide. An incredibly diverse place with 175 “ethnolinguistic nations,” this Southeast Asian country represents enormous promise as a developing economy, and with its strategic location and traditional ties to America, an important place that under the current administration has moved further away from the United States and closer to China. But the bonds between the Philippines and America go a long way back and among many segments of that society, these bonds are still quite strong, at least privately. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t hit the nation like the U.S., certain nations in Europe or Brazil with 51,754 known cases and 1,314 associated deaths. But poverty there is still a way of life for too many and the challenges and risks associated with a lack of economic wherewithal correlate to great danger with the menace of the COVID-19. The nation’s health care agencies are actively working with the World Health Organization (WHO), for example, to participate in clinical research as a means to access potential vaccine candidates in the hopes that one actually works. But still with no information from WHO on vaccine candidates as of yet, decision makers there hedge that nation’s vaccine bet by partnering with the Chinese and Taiwanese for access.
Clinical Trials the Way to go
The Philippines doesn’t have the money to throw around like the United States or the European Union. Few nations can spend billions of dollars to pre-order COVID-19 vaccine supply. Hence the Philippines must offer trial sites and participants as currency to access investigational products. Jaime Montoya, executive director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, was recently quoted in the local press on the topic of getting access to COVID-19 vaccine product for the people of the Philippines. He is on the record that the “best short-term strategy” to ensure access to SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates will be to participate in vaccine clinical trials. Montoya believes, “This ensures that these vaccines will be accessible and available in the Philippines.” That is the reality of the world health care market.
What are the Trial Sites for WHO Solidarity Vaccine Trials?
Dr. Nina Gloriani with the University of Philippines, Manila College of Public Health, chairs the country’s vaccine expert panel and shared some insight on that nations’ strategy to select clinical trial sites for WHO Solidarity vaccine trials. During an online press briefing on Wednesday, July 8, Dr. Gloriani suggested that “trial sites” were selected in regions inclusive of the highest SARS-CoV-2 transmission rates. Initially at least five hospitals have been selected, including the following:
Philippine General Hospital
This hospital was founded in 1907 and includes 1,100 beds and 400 private beds. Employing an estimated 4,000, the provider serves 600,000 patients annually.
Manila Doctors Hospital
Also based in Manila, Manila Doctors Hospital was founded in 1956 by a group of 14 doctors. The provider represents a premiere private tertiary hospital serving both local and international patients. The provider is owned by Manila Medical Services and is an affiliate of Metrobank Foundation, Inc. With up to 500 beds by late January, the hospital opened a quarantine section for COVID-19 patients.
Institute for Tropical Medicine
A government owned facility, Institute for Tropical Medicine was the result of a joint effort between the Philippines and Japan. It was launched back in 1981 with Japanese grants and an $8m facility was constructed within the Ministry of Health’s Bureau of Research and Laboratories center in Alabang, Muntinlupa. Today, a number of research programs are supported, including AIDS, Rabies, Dengue, Malaria, Emerging Infectious Disease and TB as well as others.
San Lazaro Hospital
San Lazaro Hospital, located in central Manila, is a referral facility for communicable diseases and is a retained special tertiary hospital of the Department of Health, funded with subsidies by the Philippine national government. The provider has 500 beds.
Vicente Sotto Medical Center
With 1,200 beds, the Vincente Sotto Medical Center of Cebu City has been in operation since at least 1911. They are a general tertiary medical center and teaching facility owned by the Philippine government.
What Vaccine will WHO Test in the Philippines?
According to Dr. Gloriani via local news outlet Inquirer.net, WHO has not communicated which investigational vaccine candidates will be tested in the Philippines. Although, she did acknowledge that participating subjects (volunteers) could possibly take one if not two doses of trial vaccines. She reported that meaningful data will be gleaned six months after vaccination.
WHO Vaccine Program for Philippines
According to local press, Dr. Gloriani forecasts that the WHO COVID-19 vaccine candidate clinical trials will commence October 2020 through March 2021 with the distinct possibility that such trials would expend until September 2021. This would ultimately include Phase 3 clinical trials involving anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people from the Philippines. Gloriani shares that WHO has not determined country allocation for vaccine trial participation.
Philippines Diversifies Vaccine Bets: Embraces China & Taiwan
The Philippine Department of Health InterAgency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has actually approved investigational vaccine candidates developed by five Chinese and Taiwanese pharmaceutical groups.
The candidates from China include the following:
- Chinese Academy of Science
- Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health
- Sinovac Biotech Ltd
- Sinopharm (collaborated with Wuhan Institute and Beijing Biologicals Institute)
From Taiwan comes the experimental vaccine product from the following:
A separate issue centers around some national politics. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has been on record last month that any vaccine that is consumed in the Philippine Islands should be produced by a Philippines’ based pharmaceutical company as opposed to Chinese or Taiwanese drug makers. In fact, that just may occur as last month the DOST Science Secretary Fortunato dela Pena declared, according to the Philstar Global, technical working group (TWG) under the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) met with 11 local companies involved in COVID vaccine research and development in the Philippines.
Philippines health agency leaders recognize participation in clinical research as an imperative to access potential COVID-19 experimental vaccines. Although the island nation hasn’t been hit nearly as hard as countries like America, its decision makers are nonetheless not taking any chances. A large, dynamic, and diverse place, with extensive historical ties to the United States, relations with the country have been strained with their most recent executive administration, which appears to favor China as a large strategic partner. Although health leaders there are committed to WHO and its vaccine trial program, and in fact have committed at least five prominent hospitals as clinical trial sites, they nonetheless are actively working with at least five Chinese and Taiwanese COVID-19 vaccine developers for diversified access. Now they are also attempting to position local pharmaceutical manufactures for involvement in vaccine manufacturing.