MANILA— The Philippine Genome Center (PGC) needs P100 million to expand in the Visayas and Mindanao, an official said Wednesday, as its operations are now critical to ramp up detection of new COVID-19 variant cases in the country.
Part of the proposed budget would not only be for equipment but also for supplies such as reagents which are procured abroad, said Dr. Eva Maria Cutiongo-Dela Paz, PGC Director for the Genomics Health Program.
The satellite laboratories, to augment the lone sequencing lab in Manila, would also need well-trained manpower to run the sequencing, and highly-skilled bioinformaticians tasked to analyze the sequences to determine the kind of variant in a sample.
“'Yang P50 million para po makasimula na ang ating mga satellite PGCs, masimulan na nila 'yung sequencing at ito pong budget na ito sa aming computation pwede pong maka-last hanggang December, pagtapos po ng taon,” she said in an interview on TeleRadyo.
(The P50 million is needed for the satellite PGC to start operating, and based on our computation, this budget can last until the December, the end of the year.)
Dela Paz said the Department of Health is addressing this so that sequencing could be done in other regions. Currently, PGC does all sequencing at its laboratory in Manila.
“Sa ngayon 'yung mga samples kailangan pang ilipad dito sa Maynila. Sa pamamagitan ng 'pag capacitate natin ng ating PGC Visayas at PGC Mindanao, matutulungan po sa regions, doon na po mangyari ang sequencing,” she said.
(For now, samples must be flown to Manila for sequencing. Through PGC Visayas and PGC Mindanao this would help the regions if samples are sequenced there.)
In the interview, Dela Paz explained that the purpose of genomic surveillance is to track how the virus is transmitted in the community. It can also identify the presence of a variant from an international traveler. Surveillance is also used for outbreaks and surge of cases.
Dela Paz said genomic surveillance helps in guiding the government’s response but not as “point of care clinical decisions.”
Unlike the RT-PCR test where results can be obtained quickly, results of samples submitted for genome sequencing may take a while.
“Multi-layered coordinated efforts, ‘di siya ganun kasimple na 'may sample ako paki-sequence,' hindi po ganun. Hindi po siya parang RT-PCR test,” she said.
(It’s a multi-layared coordinated effort and its not as simple as, for example, 'I have a sample, please do a sequence,' its not like that. Its not like the RT-PCR test.)
She said the PGC has different types of machines called sequencers with various capacities.
The center’s biggest sequencing machine can do 750 samples in 25 hours, while the two other sequencers can run 350 and 48 samples in 18 hours, respectively.
“'Yun po ay sa sequencing lamang. Meron pa pong proseso bago nun at meron pang proseso pagkatapos nun. Bago nung 'yung pagpila, pag-submit ng mga samples ayon sa ating criteria. 'Yung pagkatapos naman po 'yung bioinformatics analysis. 'Yun po ay kumakain din ng panahon kasi kailangan pong ilabas natin ay accurate,” she said.
(But that’s only for sequencing. There is a process before and after the sequencing. First is the submission of samples based on our criteria and then after the sequencing is the bioinformatics analysis. That takes up time because we need to release accurate results.)