India’s diagnostics majors spent the greater part of 2020 trying to make COVID-19 test kits in India. These companies have now begun planning for a post-pandemic life.
With daily case counts revealing a plateau in numbers of infections and tests, diagnostics companies are bracing for an inconvenient but expected fall in demand for COVID-19 test kits.
Part of the game plan involves launching a quest for alternate revenue streams, especially once vaccination begins.
When the pandemic began early last year, Chennai-based medical devices manufacturer Trivitron began investing in manufacturing RT-PCR test kits at its plant in Chennai. Today, the company has a capacity of two crore COVID test kits per month, at its plants in Chennai and Vizag, which account for 60 percent of Trivitron’s 2020 revenues. The company’s conventional business through the manufacturing ultrasound machinery and CT scans is down 50 percent
With India moving to the vaccination phase, Trivtrion has begun looking beyond RT-PCR tests. “The RT-PCR infrastructure which we have created, will have to be put to use in testing for more acids, in order to detect ailments like Malaria, Dengue and HIV,” said Dr GSK Velu, Chairman and Managing Director, Trivtron, “Testing for these ailments has so far been import-dependent. Now, I foresee companies producing test kits for these ailments as well, in India.”
Dr Velu believes the implication of such a scenario is a molecular approach to testing (like the RT-PCR test for COVID-19) for other viruses as well, infrastructure for which is already present in India thanks to investments while preparing for COVID-19 testing. “So the approach of entire molecular testing, which was almost 95 percent import-dependent, will become less than 10 percent import-dependent now,” he adds.
To provide context, when the pandemic had only just begun in March, India’s COVID-19 testing infrastructure was only about 10 percent localised and heavily reliant on Chinese imports. Subsequently, manufacturers like Mylab and Trivitron began making COVID test kits, which were priced between Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,300 per kit. These prices have fallen to just under 300 rupees today, thanks to large-scale manufacturing.
Mylab now wants to replicate this model for other molecular test kits too, to ensure that molecular testing is the norm even after COVID-19 comes to an end.
“Just before COVID, India was hardly doing 1 percent PCR or molecular tests. Today, we have more than 3,000 to 4,000 centres doing these tests,” says Hasmukh Rawal, Promoter & Managing Director of Pune-based Mylab, “The major factor was the cost of infrastructure, but we have proved that even a high-end test like a molecular test, which was hardly 1 percent, can be brought to the common man if we work at scale.”
Indian companies aren't the only ones making these test kits in India. The Aatmanirbhar Bharat push seems to have worked in getting overseas diagnostics manufacturers to manufacture here. German medical device maker, Siemens Healthineers, has earmarked about Rs 1,300 crore to set up an innovation hub in Bengaluru, with specific focus on molecular testing.
With localisation levels of these kits hitting the 90-percent mark, a country with a population as large as that of India’s, seems to be ticking most boxes in staying self-reliant even in the post-pandemic months.