THE University of the Philippines - Philippine Genome Center (UP-PGC) satellite facilities in the Visayas and Mindanao will soon be able to conduct whole genome sequencing to detect coronavirus variants with the approval of a P295.7-million budget for their operations.
Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, in a press conference Friday, said this will expand the UP-PGC’s capacity to conduct genome sequencing.
At present, the UP-PGC is capable of sequencing approximately 750 samples a week. When the Visayas and Mindanao facilities become fully operational, each will be able to sequence 350 samples a week while the PGC Diliman will double its output to 1,500 samples, for a total of 2,200 samples a week.
Vergeire said logistical challenges have limited the capability of DOH regional units in the Visayas and Mindanao to regularly send samples for sequencing in the UP-PGC in Diliman, Quezon City.
“So this expansion will definitely help us sequence more samples in the VisMin area,” Vergeire said. PGC Visayas is located within the UP Visayas campus in Miagao, Iloilo while PGC-Mindanao is located within UP Mindanao in Davao City.
Strengthening the UP-PGC’s biosurveillance capacity will enhance not only the government’s coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) response, but also the capability to address other disease outbreaks in the future, she added.
Aside from detecting variants of Sars-CoV-2, genomic biosurveillance plays a big role in determining causes of outbreaks, tracking how a virus is transmitted, and complementing disease surveillance in guiding the overall public health response beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.
Vergeire reiterated that whole genome sequencing is not being used as a point of care intervention.
“Local government units (LGUs) don’t need to wait for sequencing results before undertaking Covid-19 response measures. Case management protocols should be implemented as soon as an individual tests positive,” she said.
Case management protocols include immediate isolation, contact tracing and monitoring.
In a statement, the DOH said the availability of highly technical equipment and tools for whole genome sequencing in Visayas and Mindanao is beneficial for the regions’ current Covid-19 response and for surveillance of other diseases.
The sequencing effort takes off from the molecular biology equipment that the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has installed in PGC Visayas and Mindanao.
“Our partnership with the DOH and the DOST has highlighted the importance of the country’s biosurveillance capacity in disease prevention and control. May this partnership lay down the foundations of further improving our biosurveillance capacity,” said UP-PGC executive director Dr. Cynthia Saloma.
The PGC was established in UP Diliman on July 31, 2009. As of August 21, 2021, it has sequenced 11,919 coronavirus-positive samples nationwide and detected 2,322 cases of the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7), 2,588 cases of the Beta variant (B.1.351), two cases of Gamma (P.1) and 1,273 cases of Delta variant (B.1.617.2). It has also found 388 cases of P.3, the variant that first emerged in Cebu. (Marites Villamor-Ilano / SunStar Philippines)