Duterte floats ₱10-M reward for Filipino who can invent COVID-19 vaccine

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President Rodrigo Duterte (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 21) — President Rodrigo Duterte is pouring more funds into the search for a cure for COVID-19, promising a research grant for local scientists and a separate reward for anyone who can develop a vaccine.

"Dahil public enemy number one nga itong COVID-19 hindi lang dito sa Pilipinas kundi sa buong mundo, inanunsyo ng Pangulo na siya ay magbibigay ng pabuya na hanggang ₱10 milyon sa kahit sinong Pilipino na makakadiskubre ng vaccine laban sa COVID-19," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Tuesday.

[Translation: Because we consider COVID-19 as public enemy number one not only here in the Philippines but also globally, the President announced that he is giving a bounty of up to ₱10 million to any Filipino who will discover a vaccine against COVID-19.]

On top of this, Duterte also pledged a "substantial" grant to the laboratories of the University of the Philippines and the Philippine General Hospital to boost efforts towards producing a cure for the deadly disease, Roque said. However, the amount was not disclosed.

PGH has been identified as one of the main referral hospitals for coronavirus patients.

Abroad, there are dozens of pharmaceutical firms racing against time in coming up with a viable treatment, although some experts say these will unlikely be in the market in the next several months. For now, doctors are trying to use medicines meant for other diseases on COVID-19 patients.

Several drug companies in the United States and China have started clinical trials for potential cures.

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, which is related to the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome but not as deadly. The disease is spread through small droplets from the nose or mouth when people infected with the virus cough or sneeze.

To prevent further infections, Duterte placed the entire Luzon under an extended lockdown which will expire on April 30, with no hints yet whether the strict stay-at-home rules will be eased or sustained for millions of Filipinos.

Currently, PGH doctors have been trying an experimental plasma therapy for patients in critical condition. Scientists are checking if they can tap the antibodies developed by a recovered person to help a struggling patient combat the infection. For this process, the plasma — or the liquid portion of the blood from someone who once battled the coronavirus — carries antibodies, which will be infused into a patient's system with hopes to boost the chances of recovery.

A number of recovered COVID-19 patients, including Senators Sonny Angara and Migz Zubiri, have donated blood to support this treatment.

FAST FACTS: Donating blood plasma for COVID-19 patients

The President earlier said that he would only lift the quarantine measures once an antibody cure for COVID-19 is ready for widespread use. He did not name which drug maker is behind this, but said that the treatment may be rolled out in the market as early as May.