Alumni Profile: Dr John Mark Velasco

Dr Velasco finished his BSc Biology (cum laude), Doctor of Medicine, Masters of Public Health from the University of the Philippines and his post-graduate diploma (2011) and Masters of Science in Clinical Trials (2013) from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London. He also has a graduate certificate in Emerging Infectious Disease Epidemiology from the University of Iowa, USA (2010).

Graduation at LSHTM

Dr Velasco at Graduation

After graduating from medical school, he worked under the supervision of Dr Vicente Belizario Jr, then Deputy Director of the University of the Philippines National Institute of Health (UP-NIH) and now an undersecretary of the country’s Department of Health (DOH).

“I am grateful to Dr “Jun” Belizario and fully credit him for initially helping me appreciate research and viewing it as an alternative career path.”

During his stint at UP-NIH, Dr Velasco assisted Dr Belizario in the implementation of a WHO-TDR sponsored clinical trial in Mindanao, Philippines evaluating the efficacy and safety of different dosages of praziquantel for schistosomiasis.

Thereafter, he worked as a Physician Research Coordinator for the United States Army Medical Component Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences (USAMC-AFRIMS), a special foreign activity of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR). Dr Velasco was one of the founding staff who established the AFRIMS Virology Research Unit in the Philippines. He was soon promoted as Deputy Head of the Philippines AFRIMS Virology Research Unit (PAVRU) and was just recently promoted as Regional Clinical Investigator of the Department of Virology, USAMC-AFRIMS.

His diverse research interests encompass various disciplines, including virology (dengue, influenza, chikungunya, Japanese encephalitis), parasitology (schistosomiasis, soil transmitted helminthes, malaria), bacteriology (emerging antibiotic resistance of multidrug-resistant (MDR) organisms including MDR-TB), epidemiology, electronic disease surveillance, clinical research and clinical trials. As the AFRIMS liaison officer, his job also includes facilitating inter-agency communication and maintaining good working relationships among Philippine national agencies, US agencies, international/ national NGOs and local research institutions.

Outstanding Young Scientistawarding by President of the Philippine National Academy of Science andTechnology

Outstanding Young Scientist awarding in the Phillipines

“I chose to study MSc Clinical Trials by distance learning at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine because of the program’s flexibility which allowed me to work full-time while concurrently pursuing the degree. More importantly, I chose to study at the School because of its reputation as a world renowned leader in health research.”

Studying via distance learning was not without difficulties.

“Studying was quite challenging. I had to exert effort to motivate myself to study regularly to finish the course sans the physical stimulation and schedule that a formal teacher-student-classroom environment provides. In addition, I had to strictly manage my time since I was working full-time and frequently travelling. I succeeded by sheer hard work and discipline. I had to give up some of my extra-curricular studies to focus more on completing the coursework.”

Dr Velasco though has no regrets in investing his time and energy in completing the degree.

“Taking up the MSc Clinical Trials allowed me to appreciate the theoretical basis of certain aspects of clinical trials. It enabled me to connect and interact with classmates who are also professionals in similar or slightly different fields, and with school faculty who are leading experts in their respective fields. The relationships formed during the three years of distance learning were very helpful in enabling me to successfully finish the degree.”

Dr Velasco recognizes the importance of the School to his career progression as a research professional. The School awarded him a partial scholarship to take up the Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Trials. He then continued and completed the MSc Clinical Trials degree with partial support from USAMC-AFRIMS.

“My MSc Clinical Trial degree helped me a lot in my career. When I graduated back in 2013, I was the first and only Filipino graduate of MSc Clinical Trials. Due to this unique qualification, I was soon invited by the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health – Food and Drugs Administration (UP NIH-FDA) to become a member of the expert panel which reviews clinical trials for implementation in the Philippines.”

Senate Resolution commending theTOYM 2014 awardees by Philippine Senate (with Philippine Senate Presidentand Senators

Phillipine Senate Resolution commending the The Outstanding Young Men 2014 recipients

 

In addition to his membership in the NIH-FDA expert panel, Dr Velasco is also a regular member of the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) and the US Embassy health security working group.

His proudest moments to date included being given the distinction by the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST-Philippines) as one of the Outstanding Young Scientists (OYS) for Public Health in 2014. During the same year, he was recognized as a recipient of The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of the Philippines for Medical Science and Public Health. TOYM is nationally recognized as the most prestigious honor for Filipinos 40 years old and below, with the awarding ceremony held at the Philippine Presidential Palace. Dr Velasco, along with the other TOYM awardees, were commended via a resolution by the Philippine Senate and Philippine Congress for their significant contributions in nation building.

TOYM awarding at Heroes Hall,Malacan,  Palace of the Philippine President with Secretary of thePhilippine Cabinet

TOYM awarding at Heroes Hall, Malacan, Palace of the Philippine President with Secretary of the Philippine Cabinet

 

Dr Velasco’s vision is to help improve the rigor of clinical trials being conducted in the Philippines in order to produce high-quality data which can then be utilized for new drug or vaccine licensure, and translated for use in clinical practice and health policy decision-making. His advocacies include advancement of medical and clinical research through a One Health, multi-sectoral integrative approach involving the departments of health, agricultural, defense, academe and various international agencies.

Dr Velasco’s advice to current students is simple and straightforward.

“Know your passion. This will give you a sense of purpose and if this purpose is the one driving you, excellence will follow because you enjoy what you are doing. Be passionately curious. Never stop learning. Never stop growing. Real education has almost nothing to do with your ability to remember facts and figures. A substantial amount of knowledge which you have learned may no longer hold true in the future. This is a by-product of progress, a consequence of growth. Truths change. Real education is learning how to be a well-adjusted and productive member in your community. The end-result of real education should enable you to contribute and make a significant difference in the lives of other people, your community and your country.”

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