BIOSAFETY LAB. Photos show what is inside the new biosafety level 2 laboratory inside the DOST compound in Bicutan, Taguig City. The laboratory will enable researchers to work on different virology projects, design a non-infective pseudovirus using molecular tools, among others. (Photos courtesy of DOST Undersecretary Rowena Guevara

MANILA – In preparation for the establishment of a Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines (VIP), a biosafety level 2 laboratory was soft-launched on Thursday inside the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) compound in Bicutan, Taguig City.

The facility will provide the researchers with a safe place for the initial projects for the VIP. Through this laboratory, they can work on these virology projects safely and securely while also ensuring the safety and security of the community and the environment, DOST Undersecretary Rowena Guevara said during the launch.

Guevara noted that the laboratory is not yet the VIP complex.

"It may not be as big as the facilities we are waiting to be established in New Clark City, but this is the start. We need not wait for the VIP complex to be constructed before conducting the initial projects of the VIP," she said.

The biosafety level 2 laboratory will enable researchers to work on different virology projects -- from plant and animal to human virology.

"Our researchers will use this facility to characterize viruses that may be transmitted from animals to humans; use bacteria-specific infecting viruses to create new therapeutic and diagnostic tools," Guevara said.

She added that with this facility, the researchers could design a non-infective pseudovirus using molecular tools. Further, they could develop an affordable, rapid detection kit for African swine fever (ASF), and also use genomic tools to create a diagnostic protocol for an agricultural virus.

She said for the VIP to be successful, it will need well-trained researchers to work in it. Thus, to build the capacity of researchers and possibly the future VIP staff, the new facility will serve as a venue for them to enhance their skills, widen their knowledge, and be adept in the different aspects of virology research.

With the help of local and foreign collaborators, as well as Balik Scientists, the researchers will undergo numerous training, lectures, and workshops.

"Our target is for the VIP to become world-class, Guevara said.

"If there's a lesson we've learned from this pandemic, it is to be proactive. That is why the DOST and its attached agencies came up with the plan to establish the country's virology and vaccine institute that will arm and equip (the Filipinos) to become more prepared," she said.

She said when the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic first hit the country, the Philippines initially struggled with the availability of diagnostic kits and facilities.

"We didn't have the infrastructure to know what this virus was, and we had to rely on information from virology research labs overseas," she said.

The pandemic, Guevara said, has shown how important it is to be safe and secure from invisible biological agents or viruses.

She reiterated that in doing virology research, it is essential to prioritize personnel safety and security. (PNA)