Genome center seeks funding for expanded capacity to detect variants

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 27) – The Philippine Genome Center said Tuesday its satellite offices in the Visayas and Mindanao each need P50 million this year to conduct genome sequencing, which identifies the type of variant a coronavirus-positive person has.

"For the rest of the year...they would need something like [a] 50-million budget. Not just for the equipment, pero pati na iyong mga kits (but also the kits)," PGC executive director Cynthia Saloma told reporters in an online forum.

Saloma said they will try to ask the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Health to provide the required funding, but that "everybody" is welcome to help. The donation must be done in coordination with the DOH's epidemiology bureau.

The P50 million budget for each facility is already the “cheapest,” the official said, adding that the biggest chunk will be spent on purchasing reagents.

With the funding, each facility will be able to sequence 50 samples per week, she noted.

Ideally, 5% of the country's total COVID-19 cases should be sequenced, according to Saloma, citing the World Health Organization’s recommendation.

But Saloma said the PGC is not aiming to test 5% of all the cases, but to improve the turnaround time of results -- currently between three and five days -- by expanding the capacity to conduct genome sequencing.

Currently, only the PGC main office in Quezon City is sequencing the samples.

Saloma also welcomed the plan of the Manila city government to put up its own genome sequencing facility, but warned the LGU it would not be easy.

"We can also help them train the people, in the same manner, that we train them for RT-PCR [testing]," she said.

"The problem is siguro (maybe) number one, mahirap mag-hire ng [it is difficult to hire] molecular biologists. Number 2 is (the assurance) that they would stay with you," she added.

The country was able to sequence 9,351 samples or 0.86% of around 1 million cases from January to July this year, another PGC official said in the same forum.