When a pandemic strikes the world, everything comes to a standstill. On 24 March 2020, when the lockdown was imposed in India starting midnight, an eerie silence took over the entire country – roads became empty, and all factories and commercial establishments came to a grinding halt, with no idea when they would be back in action.
At J Mitra & Company, this was just the beginning of a long and arduous battle against Covid-19. As an essential healthcare service, we were exempted from the lockdown restrictions. But the sudden (and rightful) action by the government had taken us completely off-guard. With movement restrictions, our employees had no way to move out for work. Yet, we could not sit back and relax. We had to get our workforce back in the plants to ensure uninterrupted diagnostics production – permissions, permits, and clearances had to be procured from the competent authorities for all critical staff, and the raw materials held up at various logistics sites, ports and warehouses had to be released.
What was more critical, and at that time known to just a select few, our R&D team was busy working towards developing a potent Covid-19 diagnostic test kit. The research and development team, under the direct tutelage of the Chairman, Lalit Mahajan was silently but aggressively working towards creating an indigenous made-in India test kit since January 2020. Till then, the only Covid-19 test kits that were available in the market were of either Chinese or South Korean origin, and they had reliability issues as well as severe supply shortage. Pricing too, was exorbitant. For India to win the fight against Covid-19, we as a country with a population of around 1.4 billion had to become completely self-reliant in terms of meeting the internal demand for test kits. It was this realisation that kept the R&D team going.
With the various technology platforms possible for testing, we had to take a judicious call on which platform to adopt. We decided to innovate with the Elisa technology based on the double sandwich principle. We, along with the International Centre for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology (ICGEB), developed the diagnostic test kit which is a serology-based total antibody detection assay, making it the first total-anti-body detection assay kit for Covid-19 developed in the Indian market. Using a combination of IgM, IgG and IgA antibody test increases the sensitivity, efficiency, and efficacy of the test parameters, providing a more accurate diagnosis as compared to other test kits in the market.
But the task was extremely arduous. It was very difficult to procure Covid-19 samples on which the tests could be conducted. Sheer grit, determination and innovative spirit of the R&D team saw us through the challenge in record time and the kit was formally launched on 17 June 2020.
Our decision on going with this technology was based on several factors and parameters like – potency, accuracy, sensitivity and specificity, ease of use, infrastructure requirement at user end, final cost at patient-end, etc. With a Sensitivity of 94.04% & Specificity of 100%, our COVID-19 [IgM, IgG, IgA] MICROLISA Elisa test kit is one of the best kits available in the Indian market.
Based on our past record and achievements, ICMR and the Indian government also entrusted us with the manufacturing of the ICMRNIV developed COVID KAWACH IgG MICROLISA Covid-19 test kit which tests for IgG antibody in human serum / plasma, and has a sensitivity of 96.33% and specificity of 100%.
To go with these two test kits, we also launched two Covid Test readers, to make India self-reliant and empowered in the fight against Corona.
Coming back to the aspect of commencing operations in our plants. Business continuity was a major challenge, but it was a fight that we had to win for the country, for our employees and for ourselves. Work had to carry on, even as we suffered manpower shortage, and raw-material shortage (though limited) due to supply-chain being completely hit. We worked day and night to ensure the necessary passes for our employees, some of whom required inter-state passes. All this entailed a lot of paperwork, but the efficiency of the team saw us through.
Safety, security, and mental peace of the work-force was paramount. More than the financial hit, Corona had severely impacted the emotional well-being of the people. Fear of catching the infection was writ large, but our Corona warriors were ready to attend to their duties physically, while others resorted to work from home. We had to ensure the highest possible levels of sanitation, both for the safety and mental peace of the employees, as well as the safety and quality sentiments attached to the products that left our factories. Stringent quality control and supreme hygiene norms were re-enforced. We immediately enhanced and upgraded them to counter the intrusion and spread of the corona virus. This created a lot of confidence.
We were able to successfully play our small part in the mammoth fight against Covid-19 engineered by the Indian government, and we continue to do so. We are now waiting for the government to remove the restrictions on export of indigenously produced test kits and provide us clearance to start exporting the surplus production to other needy countries, so that we are able to offset the costs and investments that we have made towards the development and manufacturing of the Covid-19 test kits, and contributing towards the global fight against the pandemic.
Covid-19 vaccination drive is currently well underway, and India has fared much better than many countries in the ongoing fight against Covid-19. The fight may be long, but together, we will all sail through.As part of the healthcare industry, we have a responsibility towards the Indian populace, and we are 100% committed towards the earliest mitigation of the crisis.