DOST Undersecretary Rowena Cristina Guevara (Screenshot from DLSU Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Health Technologies' Facebook page

MANILA – An official of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) on Wednesday said the government will further push for the development of the medical technology sector, citing the demand amid the pandemic.

"The urgent need for this has never been more apparent than at the onset of the Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic, when demands for personal protective equipment (PPEs) and test kits globally greatly affected their prices and our procuring power, and consequently our response," said Undersecretary Rowena Cristina Guevara in a virtual forum organized by De La Salle University.

She noted the growing shift to less expensive equipment both from regional and local suppliers.

The local medical device market, she said, is heavily dependent on imports, with medical equipment being almost 100 percent imported, and medical disposables being about 50 percent imported.

"Local production is limited to mostly prototypes, and accessories and spare parts. In addition, continuous population growth, hospital expansion and upgrading, as well as increasing healthcare spending are driving higher demands in services," Guevara remarked.

Part of DOST's ways to address this is including its Biomedical Devices for Health Program as among its priorities. This would address the need for research on improvisation and local development of reliable, safe, and affordable biomedical devices, for supportive and therapeutic care, she said.

The program would also develop the skills and expertise in biomedical engineering and related areas.

"The research area (of this program) started with projects about hospital equipment and rehabilitation devices. As potential R&D (research and development) partners continued to develop, the scope of R&D areas expanded. For this year onwards, the specific R&D areas being supported are minimally-invasive surgical devices; devices for postoperative or rehabilitative care; devices for health emergency response; better primary health care provision; and simulation platforms for disease studies," Guevara continued.

About PHP112 million has been allocated for ongoing R&D projects, which includes capacity-building activities for researchers, regulatory agency partners, and support for technology transfer and commercialization.

The amount, she said, is part of the PHP244 million R&D support for biomedical engineering for the period of 2016 to 2021. Completed projects account for about PHP132 million.

Among the projects that the DOST supported under this program are the "Ginhawa" (relief) ventilator; "Agapay", a robotic exoskeleton for upper extremity rehabilitation; and "Insole", a pressure sensing system for preventing foot ulcers.

The official said that these projects were made in collaboration between the engineering research team and experts from the medical community. During the design phase, the end-users or the medical collaborators provided feedback in terms of current need, while the engineering team generated a problem-solution standard.

There are opportunities as the country boosts its capacity in Biomedical Engineering.

"There is increasing investment in R&D, as DOST aims to support more local innovations. With increasing investment comes the expansion of the scope of research areas, to keep up with technology developments globally such as focus on distributed healthcare, use of artificial intelligence, and tissue engineering, among others," she said.

Establishing specialized research centers and more technology business incubation centers are vital in commercializing new technologies with high market potential.

Further, as more researchers and new partners come in, engagement points with different stakeholders also increase. This would help accelerate the commercialization of locally-developed technologies. In addition, academe-hospital partnerships for research and testing would ensure the safety of products developed.

The DOST recognizes that the success of the Biomedical Engineering Program also relies on forging partnerships among technology developers, such as those based in the academe, healthcare and manufacturing industries, that can help in clinical evaluation and commercialization of R&D products, Guevara said. (PNA