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Manila Healthtek Inc., led by its founder and CEO, Dr. Raul Destura, develops low-cost, accurate, and portable diagnostic tools available to all Filipinos. These developments allow Filipino patients, regardless of socioeconomic status or distance from urban areas, to get more equitable access to healthcare diagnostics. In turn, they are able to receive the correct and timely management for their condition. Furthermore, these developments also allow Filipino scientists to maximize and develop their talents and contribute to the country's healthcare system. Additionally, the company also minimizes its waste disposal. Being a company that uses molecular raw materials for their research helps a lot in minimizing their waste management, so they are able to produce their products responsibly. To put things into perspective, Dr. Destura mentioned that the amount of waste that Manila Healthtek Inc. produces amounts only to approximately one small bag every six months. In total, all of these factors allow Manila Healthtek Inc. to address five of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly (how each SDG goal was addressed will be discussed in the latter part of this article):
SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 12- Responsible Production and Consumption
Dr. Raul Destura is a medical doctor specializing in Adult and Infectious Diseases. He led a molecular diagnostic research center at the National Institute of Health at the University of the Philippines. This public initiative then gave rise to his private endeavor of creating ManilaHealthtek Inc. to generate profits that could be used to develop healthcare diagnostic products in the Philippines further.
Dr. Destura said, “It all started as a research program at the National Institute of Health, and we started the Molecular Diagnostics for Infectious Diseases Program. Its main purpose, really, is to provide democratized access to a very powerful diagnostic platform in the country because the test for molecular tools is very expensive. We feel that if we do local innovation, then we will make this technology more accessible to the marginalized sector.”
He further cited examples of their innovations, such as a portable and low-cost test for dengue (a viral infection that spreads from mosquitoes). Dr. Destura mentioned, “From that research program, we developed the first diagnostic test which is the dengue test that we did. Then, from then on, we decided to bring it all the way to the market. Since the landscape for biotechnology investment in the Philippines was very young, there were very few or virtually none who were willing to take the risks of investments in these programs, so we decided to do it ourselves.”
Aside from the dengue test kits, ManilaHealthTek Inc. has also developed 57 new technologies aimed at “the neglected tropical diseases,” which Dr. Destura described as “diseases no longer being addressed by developed countries because the disease is no longer present in their area but are still creating a lot of problems and causing a lot of deaths here in the Philippines.” Some of these diseases include Schistosomiasis, Leptospirosis, and Salmonella infections.
During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they also developed locally-made COVID-19 test kits that helped several laboratories gain access to this technology during those trying times.
Some of Manila HealthTek's products include the Lab-in-a-Mug Project, a portable dengue test kit, and the African Swine Fever test kit, a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test kit that detects the African Swine Fever virus at its earliest stages.
For Dr. Destura, improving the lives of Filipinos is his main inspiration for creating ManilaHealhtek Inc. From directly helping patients to providing opportunities to our scientists to helping improve the economic state of the country, he never runs out of inspiration to continue developing his healthcare diagnostic products. He said, “This inspiration stems from the fact that when you are a clinician, you see gaps when you see patients. You always wonder, ‘It would have been nice if this patient would have access to this technology, and the disease would have been detected earlier, and the intervention would have mattered a long way for this particular patient.’ The role of diagnostic technology that is accessible is very crucial for life-saving mechanisms in the country. Basically, the core inspiration is saving lives, and we try to do it in our own way to really have a significant impact in the future. My driving inspiration to create this program is to address the diseases of poverty. Diseases of poverty demand the attention of every sector in the country. Our principal goal is saving lives, and it cannot be done by one sector only.”
He further added, “My inspiration really is accessible technology for Filipinos. It has always been a dream of mine to prove that, if the country will support the dreams and aspirations of our scientists within our country, to use science as their way of helping our country, then that’s actually viable. That particular dream would really take a lot of effort from our end, but it never stopped me from trying to create an environment that is suitable for the science and technology community to grow in the country, and reduce the need to leave the country for opportunities of similar nature in other countries. If we succeed in building this particular framework, then maybe the science and technology community will have a home here. They will continue building their dreams in the Science and Technology sector developing relevant technologies that will help the health sector. At the same time, they would help improve and support the macroeconomic growth of the country as a result of a growing biotechnology ecosystem.”
Since its creation in 2013, Manila Healthtek has positively impacted the Philippines. Dr. Destura specifically mentioned four areas where his company has had a positive influence throughout its first decade of operations. He said, "In terms of impact. There are several layers. The first layer is the proof of concept that local innovation matters wherein you create the environment for which science and technology growth is actually directly translated to patient care. The second layer is the opportunities for young scientists to do something for the country; doing the things that are training for and doing the things that they love to do which is do scientific work. That particular environment can foster the emergence of new leaders in the Science and Technology Sector because they are seeing the fruits of what they are doing at such a young age in their careers. The third impact is our ability to focus on diseases that are relevant in the country. The fourth one is through improving the science and technology ecosystem here in the country, then we are hoping that similar to other countries such as Singapore, Korea, and Japan, the Science and Technology ecosystem is a major contributor to the country's Gross Domestic Product and the economic impact can generate new jobs in the Science and Technology sector."
Truly, Manila Healthtek Inc. hits multiple birds with one stone. In the short term, these innovations directly help patients, especially the disadvantaged ones who have less access to healthcare. In the long-term, this allows scientists who are passionate and want to contribute to local healthcare innovation. With the examples that Dr. Destura cited, and as mentioned earlier, their company already addresses five of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), particularly:
SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being:
This was addressed by providing accurate and low-cost diagnostic tools to help patients get the correct and timely treatment. By preventing the delay of correct treatment, Dr. Destura's products can save lives.
SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth:
This was addressed by providing Filipino scientists an avenue to hone their talents and work on the scientific endeavors they are passionate about. Furthermore, they have also helped the pork industry using their African Swine Fever technology. Lastly, as mentioned by Dr. Destura, the contributions of Manila Healthtek Inc. to the overall development of the biotechnology sector directly improves the macroeconomic state of the Philippines.
SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure:
This was addressed by developing local healthcare technology products. By doing so, Filipinos can access healthcare technology products that are accurate but for a much lower price than their imported counterparts.
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities:
Because of the portability and the low cost of the diagnostic products Manila Healthtek Inc. has created, they have broken barriers towards ensuring equitable healthcare access for all Filipinos.
SDG 12- Responsible Production and Consumption:
Because their production process only yields about a small bag of waste every six months, they do not have any difficulties minimizing the negative environmental impacts while manufacturing their products.
Aside from its social impact, Manila Healthtek Inc. has proven financially self-sufficient. He said, “The Manila Healtek has created four subsidiary companies that have very focused core business functions.” He also mentioned that they are incorporating some of the latest technology, such as artificial intelligence, to help them streamline their research.
Furthermore, through one of the technologies that developed, they have also helped other industries in the Philippines, such as the pork industry. Dr. Destura said, “In response to the African Swine Fever epidemic that has dramatically affected the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of our pork industry here in the Philippines, we also released the African Swine Fever technology to help areas that are actually affected by this disease among the swine businesses and industry. It’s a molecular test that will detect the virus in its earliest form.”
As stated, Manila Healthtek has positively impacted the healthcare and research industries and non-healthcare industries. The positive impacts of their company are truly going above and beyond what is typically seen in a for-profit business.
As mentioned, the leading social benefit that Manila Healthtek provides is equitable access to healthcare diagnostics. Dr. Destura mentioned two specific products that have been instrumental to that cause. He said, “The Laboratrolley, a molecular lab in a suitcase wherein people who have no access to molecular laboratories in the GIDA locations (Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged locations). For those who cannot access existing laboratories, all they need to do is to bring the suitcase and they can do molecular testing in their area. We have several infectious disease diagnostics that we have in the pipeline that we are putting out there, and some of them are being distributed in certain regions in the country. We have also opened our non-communicable pipeline. Our biggest project now is the cardiometabolic panel that identifies Filipinos who are genetically resistant to specific drugs for hypertension, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, and resistance to aspirin and clopidogrel. These are the ones we hope to complete within the year so that the expenditure of Filipinos will be dedicated really to the medications that actually work for them.”
Leaving nothing to chance, Dr. Destura also took proactive steps to ensure that their company was doing its part for the environment. Fortunately, the nature of their company is intrinsically advantageous for the environment. He said, “The advantage of our platform is that we are a molecular-based company, so our waste is at a molecular level. They’re really really small, and we have mechanisms for disposal and treating our waste before it goes out to the environment. At the same time, we don’t use significant raw materials that increase the burden of waste in the country because the majority of them are really small plastics that are used in laboratories compared to PET (PolyEthylene Terephthalate) bottles. We also treat our waste to make them biologically degradable. It’s like one small bag of waste every six months.”
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Raul Destura, Founder and CEO