By Luisa Soriano-Lumioan, S&T Media Service
The Department of Science and Technology (DOST), through its Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD), is currently doing studies on tawa-tawa’s (scientific name Euphorbia hirta) anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties and its supposed ability to increase blood platelets.The discovery of tawa-tawa’s active ingredient will lead to the development of treatments for dengue and tuberculosis.
Tawa-tawa and other Philippine herbs are current research priorities in DOST’s drug development program which looks into natural substances from plants and animals as possible sources of cure for diseases.
“Natural products research in the country is being refocused and modernized by DOST as competition in the increasingly global industry becomes more intense,” DOST Secretary Mario Montejo said.
An analysis of drug origins from 1981-2002 showed that28 percent of new chemical entities (NCE)are from natural products.
“This is a significant percentage,” said Dr. Jaime Montoya, DOST-PCHRDexecutive director.
An NCE is a molecule developed at theearly stage of the drug discovery process. Itgoes through clinical trials before it is developed into a drug that could cure certain diseases.
That most NCEs come from natural productssuggests that natural products are important sources of new drugs or lead compounds suitable for further modifications during drug development, Dr. Montoya explained.
Drug development is one of the priority programs of DOST-PCHRD starting this year. To harmonize drug discovery researches in the country, the Council launched "Tuklas Lunas" (Filipino for cure discovery) Centers to build the health research capacity in the regions. Named as the first Tuklas Lunas Center in the country is the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) campus, to be followed by two more research institutes in Luzon and the Visayas.
Along with developing new drugs from natural products, DOST-PCHRD will also embark on development of diagnostic kits for priority diseases, genomics and molecular technology; functional foods; hospital equipment and biomedical devices; information and communication technology (ICT) in health; and chronobiologyor the study of the effects of night and day to living organisms. PCHRD in particular will study the effect of shifting work schedules for workers in the Business Process Outsource industries, Dr. Montoya revealed.
PCHRD, one of the sectoral councils of DOST is mandated to formulate policies, plans, programs, project, and strategies for health science and technology development; program and allocate government and external funds for research and development; monitor research and development projects; and generate external funds.