"These priorities were chosen because of their potential economic impact, support for inclusive development, and potential contribution of new knowledge which could have universal use," he told the Philippine News Agency in an interview.
For the agriculture sector, he said the DOST eyes the expansion of coconut hybridization program in cooperation with the Philippine Coconut Authority. Additional R&D projects are being eyed in support of the Native Livestock Development Program, aquaculture species which have potentials for food security and export such as giant freshwater shrimp and saline tilapia.
R&D in support of fruits such as citrus, queen pineapple, and tamarind, and pilot testing of locally developed agricultural machines will also be given priority this year, according to de la Peña.
The DOST chief said the agency will also focus on the industry, energy, and emerging technologies sector, particularly R&D on smart food value chain, low carbon transition, sustainable mineral resources utilization.
Further, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics technologies for infrastructure and disaster management applications, as well as space technology applications in public services will be prioritized.
Aside from coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) programs, de la Peña said the DOST will give priority to food safety and nutrition, biomedical services, and virology research and studies.
"In addition to the solutions to pressing problems related to Covid-19, the DOST will intensify its R&D, and (boost) disaster risk reduction related programs by supporting the niche centers in the regions -- providing them with the needed facilities and funding to address the problems brought by disasters and extreme natural conditions," he said.
He noted that among the lessons he learned from 2020 was that it is easier to respond to new problems if there are local experts.
"Our experience with the development of a dengue diagnostic kit and disease modeling is one example that helped us a lot in our Covid-19 research," de la Peña said.
"Even the health supplement made from tawa-tawa is now being tried as an adjunctive therapeutic for Covid-19. That's the contribution of R&D on dengue," he added.
Since 2020, the DOST serves as the lead agency of the IATF's sub-technical working group on vaccine development.
"The DOST worked on vaccine development-related activities, including the preparation for the conduct of Covid-19 vaccine phase 3 clinical trials in the country. The Department is also involved in the identification, evaluation, and recommendation of possible vaccine candidates for the Philippines. As such, the Department mobilized its existing bilateral and multilateral partnerships, and even attracted new ones, to identify foreign vaccine developers that would be willing to work the Philippine government to ensure the country’s access to the global supply of vaccines," he shared.
De la Peña also pointed out that in 2020, the DOST was at the forefront of research and development to assist in the government’s response to the pandemic.
"The Department spearheaded the Philippine participation in WHO Solidarity Trials on Vaccines and Therapeutics. It supported the development of GenAmplify, the first Filipino-made RT-PCR (Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) detection kit as well as the web-based disease model, FASSSTER or Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler, which served as a platform for projecting the future course of Covid-19 infections as well as surveillance. In terms of local clinical trials, the DOST funded and is monitoring the conduct of clinical trials on virgin coconut oil, melatonin, lagundi, tawa-tawa, and convalescent plasma as supplementary treatments for Covid-19," he said.
Meanwhile, de la Peña said that this year, he also wants to give priority to start-ups, including technology business incubation. More collaborative projects between industry and academe will be supported.
"The utilization or commercialization of completed R&D outputs will be of top priority," he emphasized.
For the human resource and development, on the other hand, de la Peña said the DOST's focus will be on how to facilitate effective learning for its scholars. (PNA)