US, PH agencies explore areas of partnership in vaccine manufacturing and distribution

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the limited global supply of vaccines have magnified the importance of building domestic capacity that would ensure some degree of vaccine self-reliance critical to prepare countries to deal with future pandemics.”

This was the statement of Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel Romualdez at the recent virtual forum between officials of the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), US International Development Finance Corp. (DFC), and key Philippine agencies that include the Board of Investments (BOI), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and representatives from the healthcare and logistics industries.

While the US government has provided substantial assistance to the COVID-19 response of the Philippines through the USAID (United States Agency for International Development) as seen in the additional Php170 million (US$3.5 million) funding to further support vaccine delivery through the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Initiative (COVAX) facility; empowerment of Filipino health workers; boosting of testing and treatment capabilities; and the expansion of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, there are more opportunities for cooperation with the DFC and USTDA such as the vaccine space for instance.

According to Verinda Fike, USTDA Regional Director for the Indo-Pacific, the Philippines has grown to be the agency’s “most active portfolio in Southeast Asia,” citing the support extended by the US Embassy in furthering their efforts.

“We have so much demand that we are really working closely with the Philippine government currently to set up an office at the US Embassy in Manila, hopefully by the end of this year,” Fike disclosed.

In May last year, the DFC, which partners with the private sector to finance solutions to the most critical challenges facing the developing world, launched the Global Health and Prosperity Initiative to encourage proposals from the private sector entities that are seeking DFC’s support specifically in health-related investments in developing countries.

“Through the initiative, our goal is to mobilize the private sector investment to support global health resilience worldwide. The agency is seeking to invest between US$5 million and US$500 million per eligible project through our agency’s full range of financial tools, and our goal in the next three years is to commit up to US$2 billion across eligible projects,” disclosed Nafisa Jiwani, DFC Managing Director for Health Initiatives.

The Philippines has adopted its own vaccine development and manufacturing roadmap in a bid to find suitable investment partners who can work with the country in terms of technology transfer, capacity-building, and financing. This was highlighted by the presentation of DOST Undersecretary for Research and Development Dr. Rowena Cristina Guevara who explained that in the medium term, the DOST Pharma Center will be reinstituted as “a way to bridge the gap between the academe and the industry for pharma development. We are also establishing the Virology and Vaccine Institute of the Philippines through a law,” Guevara said.

A key takeaway during the forum is that the pandemic crisis provides “an opportunity to transform the traditional approaches to development, specifically in the global health sector which has really primarily relied on aid and grant funding,” said Jiwani.

Involving the private sector can complement the aid efforts seen across the board, and promote sustainable investments in preparedness and healthcare delivery in order to build resiliency to respond and prevent future outbreaks which underscore the critical role that the DFC plays in this space, Jiwani added.

The virtual forum, which the Philippine Embassy in the US and its consulates co-organized with the US government, also served as a medium for pharmaceutical and logistics companies to get acquainted with the tools and products that are available through the DFC and USTDA to support their growth and expansion plans across the entire vaccine development, manufacturing and distribution value chain. Private sector participants during the forum include IG Biotech, Lloyd Laboratories, Unilab, Roche Philippines, Sydenham Laboratories, New Marketlink Pharmaceutical Corporation, Royal Cargo, the Philippine Pharmaceutical Industry Associations, the Cold Chain Association, and the Confederation of Truckers Association.

Describing the forum as a first but major step, DFC Director for Indo-Pacific Erin Murphy expressed optimism that “the beginning of the conversation” will result in continued collaboration between the two nations to help grow the healthcare sector in the Philippines, and ensure that the vision of making it more resilient becomes a reality.