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Lacson files ‘VIP bill’ establishing virology research institute

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Citing the need to use research and development to address threats caused by viruses like the coronavirus, Sen. Panfilo Lacson has filed a bill establishing the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines (VIP).

In Senate Bill 1543, Lacson said the VIP will also focus on threats from other novel emerging, reemerging and enzootic viruses affecting livestock and plants.

“These problems can only be addressed using science and technology, specifically through research and development (R&D). It is therefore imperative that we establish a Research Institute that delves into the study of viruses of the field of virology. The country needs diagnostics to detect and limit the spread of the existing viruses; vaccines to provide long-term protection; treatments to save lives in the shorter term, and social science to understand their behavioral and societal implications,” Lacson said in his bill.

He noted that in the case of the current COVID-19 pandemic, more than five million have been infected and more than 340,000 killed worldwide. In the Philippines, more than 14,319 had been infected and 873 were confirmed dead.

Worse, he said the health crisis from COVID-19 has resulted in widespread social and economic crises, “the impacts of which are devastating, especially to the poor.”

Under Lacson’s bill, the VIP shall serve as the premier research and development institute in virology, conducting activities and in-depth study on the viruses affecting the lives of people and resources.

It shall be a venue for scientists both here and abroad to work and study viruses of agricultural, industrial, clinical and environmental importance – establishing strategic partnerships with the world’s leading scientists, virology centers and institutes and conduct pioneering researches.

Also, the VIP shall implement policies and projects to develop virology science and technology in the country, and promote scientific and technological activities for the public and private sectors, “and ensure the results of these activities are properly applied towards self-reliance and utilized to accelerate economic and social development towards the protection of the citizens and its resources.”

The institute will focus on international cooperation and a network of databases of virus infections; and operate a virus gene bank, virus genome laboratory, and virus reference laboratory to focus on viruses circulating in the Philippines for disease prevention and epidemiological studies.

Also, it will operate a virus high containment laboratory dedicated to the study of highly infectious and highly pathogenic viruses.

The institute, which will be under the Department of Science and Technology, shall have a Governing Board chaired by the DOST secretary; with the DOST undersecretary for R&D as co-chairperson.

Meanwhile, Lacson’s bill proposed that the VIP be located in a five-hectare lot under the Bases Conversion and Development Authority within the New Clark Economic Zone in Tarlac.

It specified that the biosafety infrastructure be designed based on risk assessment for handling specific pathogens following guidelines of the World Health Organization on the establishment of a virology laboratory in developing countries.

Also, a Virology Research Fund with an initial amount of P2 billion shall be created to implement the Virology Institute Strategic Plan to be administered by the VIP.

The fund shall also be sourced from income from its operations; as well as loans, contributions, grants, bequests, gifts and donations.

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