DOST Balik Scientist discovers antimicrobial compounds for new antibiotics from Philippine biodiversity

DOST Balik Scientist Dr. Julius Adam Lopez (far left), hosted by the University of San Agustin in Iloilo, trains Filipino researches.

A Department of Science and Technology – Balik Scientist makes headway in drug discovery and development in the country by isolating antimicrobial compounds to be used in formulating new antibiotics.  

Dr. Julius Adam V. Lopez is a DOST Balik Scientist hosted by the University of San Agustin (USA) in Iloilo City.  His work focused on capacity-building initiatives in handling the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) technology among Filipino researchers in the Visayas and Mindanao region.  Through this initiative, he was able to isolate and elucidate the structure of novel and/or bioactive compounds from cultured marine actinomycetes in the biobank of USA using the NMR.

Specifically, Dr. Lopez used the NMR to purify the marine samples and identify β-lactamase inhibitors which prevent antimicrobial resistance and improve efficacy of antimicrobial treatment. This study has been done under the Philippine marine (PHILMARINE) – beta-lactamase inhibitor (BLI) project also in USA.

DOST Secretary Renato U. Solidum Jr. expressed his excitement about the potential impact of Filipinos gaining knowledge on using the NMR, stating that “Advancing our efforts in drug discovery and development and building the NMR competency within the Visayas and Mindanao regions shall help us address perplexing health issues and opens avenues for locally available, accessible, and practical solutions. The NMR is a powerful tool to study molecular structures and dynamics of complex systems and widen our understanding of the world we live in which includes discoveries of anti-cancer drugs and antibiotics.”

DOST Undersecretary for R&D Leah J. Buendia added “We need to strengthen and optimize our country’s R&D portfolio in drug discovery and development.  Through expertise engagement like the DOST Balik Scientist Program, we can be part of R&D milestones such as creating the first team of Filipino NMR spectroscopy experts who all have the capacity to discover and formulate new drugs.  This engagement will also create a big difference in the earning potential of local pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.”

DOST Balik Scientist Dr. Julius Adam V. Lopez has extensive experience in natural products chemistry and NMR Spectroscopy. He took his doctor’s degree in Hokkaido University, Japan. By using advanced NMR techniques, Dr. Lopez then led the discovery of new cytotoxic cyanobacteria termed as wewakazole B and new fatty acids amides, columbamides which are the fundamental blueprint or structures for several medicinal drugs.

In this engagement with the USA, Dr. Lopez developed an NMR training module with both theoretical and practical aspects of the NMR spectroscopy. He served as trainer on theory and practical skills for researchers from the academe and industries such as University of San Agustin, Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology, Central Mindanao University, University of Southern Mindanao, and DOST Regional Office VI.

Widening the skillset among Filipino researchers especially for researchers outside Greater Manila in using the NMR creates significant implications for the development of new antibiotics and other drugs. The presence of an NMR in the Visayas will fasttrack isolation and identification of novel compounds as these address logistics requirements of spending cost to ship samples to Manila.

The Balik Scientist program is an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology and is part of the Philippine government’s efforts to build a strong science and technology ecosystem in the country.

The enactment of the Balik Scientist Act in June 2018 paved the way for DOST to grant returning Filipino scientists with competitive benefits such as daily subsistence allowance, health insurance, and roundtrip airfare.  For those interested to become a Balik Scientist, you may contact the DOST Balik Scientist Program Management Office thru email at (DOST-STII)