COVID-19 Pandemic challenges And opportunities - Diagnostics Sector In India

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, people have become more aware of the importance of timely and reliable diagnoses. Let’s have a look at India’s diagnostics sector post the coronavirus outbreak.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of quick and effective diagnostic systems in the healthcare industry, more so in rural areas. It underlined the need for simple point-of-care solutions that can be used by anyone, anywhere with minimal investments. Goa-based Molbio Diagnostics’ Truenat platform, a point-of-care molecular diagnostics system, has been playing a significant role in the fight against COVID-19. The single platform can test 30+ diseases and share the results in less than an hour. Although Molbio’s Truenat platform was launched in 2013, it came into the limelight for COVID-19 testing. It was among the first to be approved by ICMR for COVID-19 testing in early April 2020.

In an exclusive interaction with The HealthSite, Sriram Natrajan, Director and CEO, Molbio Diagnostics, talks about the role of Truenat platform in India’s Covid fight, as well as key changes in the country’s diagnostics sector post the coronavirus outbreak. Excerpts follow:

Q. What were/ are the main challenges faced by the Healthcare industry in India, especially the diagnostics sector, during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Covid-19 pandemic completely disrupted the health care industry in both positive and negative ways. This is also true for the diagnostics sector. The companies who could quickly reorient their offerings to Covid related products did extremely well. However, all non-Covid portfolio companies saw their markets dwindling to dangerous levels. The strict lockdowns during the first wave posed extreme challenges to all healthcare companies despite falling under essential services category. Simple things in normal times became herculean tasks. Companies were working on a day-to-day basis struggling with uncertainties such as movement of people and material, even getting people to work, handling supply chain disruptions, availability and sky-rocketing costs of raw material and packaging material, transport, logistics of shipping to multiple locations and above all handling the demand pressure.

For Molbio, it has been a positively engaging and hyperactive period. In addition to finding solutions to the aforesaid challenges, the company was also constantly working on ramping up production to meet the growing demand.

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Q.How Molbio’s Truenat platform is helping in the fight against the deadly disease?

Molbio’s Truenat platform was among the first to be approved by ICMR for COVID-19 testing in early April 2020. Since then, it has been at the forefront in the fight against the disease with Molbio being the single largest supplier of Covid kits to both the public and private sector.

Molbio launched Truenat – the world’s first rapid, point of care Real Time PCR platform for diagnosis of a wide range of infectious diseases in 2013. Truenat Real Time PCR being globally the only portable, multi-disease, molecular platform, brings in a paradigm shift by taking high ended molecular testing to the remotest corners of the country and enabling it as the first line test for various diseases. Truenat has been rapidly scaled up across the country because of its ability to be deployed at all levels of the healthcare chain including PHCs and CHCs, thus decentralizing molecular testing and democratizing access to reliable and impactful tools at the first point of patient contact.

With a turnaround time of 1 hour from sample to result, Truenat ensures early and accurate diagnosis and appropriate initiation of treatment on the same day of presentation. This not only helps in better patient outcomes but also prevents further spread of the disease. The portable, battery operated, rugged machines, the ready to use room temperature stable reagents and the fully automated protocols ensures that testing can be done by minimally trained technicians. The in-built data transfer capability further enables remote interventions and remote monitoring.

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Truenat tests are priced very affordably and cost much lower than the conventional reagents. However, the overall cost benefit of early point of care diagnosis and the resulting impact on reduced morbidity and mortality, improved disease management and consequently reduced burden on the health care system far outweighs the cost of testing.

Truenat MTB is the only WHO and ICMR approved point-of-care platform for Tuberculosis detection recommended as a replacement to smear microscopy. It has been adopted by the Indian National Tuberculosis Elimination Program (NTEP) as a frontline tool for diagnosis of TB and Rifampicin resistance. The Government of India has already deployed over 1,760 Truenat machines at sub-district level across all states and Union Territories and its introduction by the National Program is already showing a huge impact by significantly increased rate of case detection. Global roll out of Truenat for TB has also begun through various international agencies including United Nations, Global Funds, Global Drug Facility, USAID, UNOPS, Stop TB etc.

As the pandemic struck, the Health Ministry decided to repurpose the TB machines for COVID-19 testing. Molbio’s Truenat test for COVID-19 was among the early tests to be approved by ICMR. We take pride in the fact that Molbio has been working at the front of the pandemic from the beginning and Truenat has played a significant role in India’s fight against COVID-19 by expanding access to RTPCR testing in rural, resource-limited geographies across the country.

Today, more than 4000 Truenat machines are being used across the private and public sector for COVID-19, TB, Hepatitis, H1N1 and other diseases testing all over India.

While COVID-19 pandemic did enhance the business growth of the company, this happened at the cost of other disease testing such as TB, Hepatitis, HPV, etc. in India and global markets which we expect would resume going forward.

Q. How has the diagnostics sector in India changed post COVID-19 outbreak?

In Vitro Diagnostics (IVD) has for long remained an underutilized and undervalued segment of the health care sector where the emphasis has been on treatment over diagnostics, especially in India and other LMIC countries. There has also been an acute lack of awareness of the role of early and accurate diagnosis in disease management.

Molecular testing such as the gold standard Real Time PCR were hardly used for routine clinical diagnosis during pre-Covid times.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a huge awareness of the importance of timely and reliable diagnosis. Even the common man today understands the need for reliable diagnostic tests both for detection and monitoring. RTPCR has become a house-hold name.

According to Research and Markets report “Indian Diagnostic Services Market Outlook 2020”, the diagnostic services market is expected to continue growing at 27.5 per cent for next five years.

We also believe the diagnostics industry that was already growing at about 15 per cent YoY is likely to see this growth further jumping to over 20 per cent YoY.

A very important factor to consider is the awareness created about point-of-care molecular diagnostics. Given the vast Indian ecosystem, point of care diagnostics are crucial to enabling a better health infrastructure. This also presents a strong growth opportunity for the sector.

Q. How do you see the future of diagnostics post COVID-19?

The outbreak of COVID-19 dramatically increased the need for RTPCR tests that has resulted in the market size suddenly growing many folds. This has not only increased the uptake of Truenat but has also significantly increased the number of labs doing molecular testing which resulted in enhanced manufacturing capacity for Covid RTPCR tests in the country and the number of players in the conventional laboratory segment.

With the growing awareness, the demand for early diagnosis of infectious diseases is high, and various public and private organizations are investing funds to accelerate R&D in the field of molecular diagnostics. Recently, the infectious disease application segment accounted for the largest market share and will grow in the coming years. As per Research & Market reports “the Indian Molecular Diagnostics Market stood at an estimated USD$ 920 million in FY 2020 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of around 10 per cent until FY 2026, predominantly on account of rising cases of fatal and chronic diseases.”

The increasing prevalence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C, coupled with tests for sexually transmitted diseases/infections like HIV and HPV will propel the segment’s growth. Molecular testing is expected to become more of a routine clinical diagnostics tool not only for COVID but for a wide range of infectious diseases in the near future.

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This post first appeared on The Health Site

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