According to official estimates, India has recorded 19,046 confirmed cases of swine flu which claimed 1075 lives till date (03-03-2015). As India battles the worst outbreak of the virus in the past five years, the Indian government approved the first India- made swine flu diagnostic kit developed by Bengaluru-based Molbio Diagnostics, which promises cheaper, faster results with a portable device. A rare silver lining in an otherwise gloomy story
Sumit Mitra, the marketing manager, global business at Molbio Diagnostics, claims “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.”
He added “Usually, the labs wait to collect a minimum number of samples before they run the 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. 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.”
Molbio, a name derived by combining Molecular Biology, 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 leverages capabilities in design, fabrication and testing of Micro Electromechanical Systems and specialises in portable devices that brings ‘lab on chip’.
Molbio’s platform, also used for testing samples for a host of other infections such as dengue and chikunguniya, has been technically ready to test the H1N1 virus since 2013 and is currently installed in 40 labs across the country. The portable device is designed to take the sample from the patient’s bedside, instead of making him or her travel to where the lab is located. “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.
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.”
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. 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.