The kit developed by Molbio costs about Rs 850, less than half the price of most imported kits (which sell for about Rs 2000 to 2800) while producing equally accurate results, claims Sumit Mitra, marketing manager, global business at Molbio Diagnostics. The one-time hardware cost at Rs 5 lakh is roughly about one-fourth of other imported platforms, he added.
Molbio, is a 50:50 joint venture between Goa-based Tulip Group that makes and sells In-Vitro diagnostic reagents, and Bengaluru-headquartered Bigtec Labs that specialises in portable devices that brings ‘lab on chip’.
The test also makes it possible to deliver results in an hour, much quicker than about six hours or more other tests usually take. “The turnaround time for tests on other platforms is longer primarily because it is very expensive to carry out a single sample test on their platforms. Usually, the labs wait to collect a minimum number of samples before they run such tests. Our kit makes it economical to run test on each sample separately, one reason why we can promise faster results in case of many infections,” explains Mitra. Another reason why reports take longer is because the conventional hardware is usually bulky and installed at a central lab, where all the samples have to be transported. Mitra says their hardware is much lighter and easier to operate.
Their portable device is also designed to take the sample from the patient’s bedside, instead of making him or her travel to where the lab is located. At present, India is almost fully dependent on imports for such kits — a lion’s share coming from Swiss firm Roche Diagnostics and US-based Life Technologies.
Sanjiv Vashishtha, chief executive of SRL Ltd, said, “Innovations are always laudable. But at this time, when the stakes are so high, we have to go with a time-tested model, which has been proved to be fully accurate and safe for our clinicians and health workers working with the samples on a round-the-clock basis”. On a daily basis, SRL is testing about 1500 samples and can ramp up the capacity to 2500, if the need arises, he added.
Molbio’s platform, also used for testing samples for a host of other infections such as dengue and chikungunya, has been technically ready to test the H1N1 virus since 2013 and is currently installed in 40 labs across the country. “It was early this year, when flu cases soared, we approached the Centre and got the nod from Indian Council of Medical Research and Drug Controller General of India within a few days,” Mitra confirmed.
However, the challenges for the firm are far from over. Despite central clearances, the labs equipped with Molbio’s technology are struggling to convince their respective state governments that they have the permissions to do the tests, Mitra said.
India has recorded 19,046 confirmed cases of swine flu which claimed 1075 lives, according to official estimates. Late last week, Union Health Minister JP Nadda said in the Parliament that India needs more labs. “We have 21 laboratories for testing swine flu. But that’s not enough. We are planning to set up H1N1 testing laboratories in all the states and financial provisions are being made for it,” Nadda said.