Shedding light on the current trends in the diagnostic industry, Zoya Brar, MD and Founder, Core Diagnostics, ellucidates about the measures to be taken to catch up with the global scenario
Could you brief us about the trends in the diagnostic industry, both in India and globally?
There are four dominant trends in the diagnostics industry:
- Making the tests more specific and reliable
- Making the tests more actionable
- Making the tests more efficient and convenient
- Making the tests more affordable
The diagnostic industry is achieving these goals by increasingly turning towards processes and technology that improve accuracy of disease detection, make tests more convenient, and deliver results in real time. Examples of these developments include a focus on liquid biopsies that use blood or patient’s saliva to detect presence of cancer, faster pathogen detecting cultures for tuberculosis, tests that determine drug resistance in microbes, etc. There is an increased attention towards decentralising diagnostics in a manner that puts the patient at the centre of the process. This is illustrated through the many technologies that are focussed on healthcare at home and point of care testing. Digital devices to test sugar, blood pressure and use of IT to deliver the reports directly to doctors are examples that are improving patient convenience. Other significant trends are the move towards preventive diagnostics and use of genetic and genome testing. Finally, the future of diagnostics also includes population trends monitoring that will allow government and healthcare bodies to plan for the future and also control the disease before it spreads.
What measures have been taken nationwide towards keeping pace with these global trends?
Typically, the Indian diagnostic industry takes about a decade to fully implement trends that are global reality. However, in the recent years, a number of startups including CORE Diagnostics are trying to quickly bridge the gap and accelerate the adoption of the best available technologies from across the world. As an example, at CORE, we focus on partnering with organisations globally that have innovative tests and technologies to enable the availability of their products to patients in India. For several tests, we have reduced the lag-time from to just a few months after launch in the US or Europe.
Elaborate on the growth potential of this industry and the major growth segments. How is CORE Diagnostics poised to leverage it?
As accessibility of healthcare increases, there is immense growth potential for the diagnostic industry. Major growth segments include cardiovascular disease, oncology – as the incidence of cancers is on a rise, reproductive diseases, neurological diseases, as well as infectious diseases.
CORE Diagnostics has established itself as a leader in oncology diagnosis and our services include some of the most advanced genetic tests that predict the risk of cancers in individuals. Such tests are recommended for high-risk individuals who have a family history of certain type of cancers, and allow them to be better prepared. An important aspect of genetic testing is genetic counselling. The last thing you want is a family understanding their genetic risks, and then worrying perpetually. Unless families are patiently and continuously guided through the follow up steps, it is almost a disservice to conduct genetic testing. CORE has established itself as the thought leader and the market leader in this area.
What are the challenges faced by the industry?
The most important challenge is the lack of skills and technical expertise in our industry. Whilst there is enough capital to be had for the right idea, the lack of people that can implement is often the largest constraint.
We have taken it upon ourselves to fix this challenge – by recruiting people with empathy and passion, and teaching them the skills. This contributes not only to the diagnostic industry, but to the overall goal of skilling India, even if at a smaller scale. The long-term goal that Modi government has set can only be achieved by grassroots efforts. We are committed to that.
Of course, it carries the risk that we skill the people and others hire them away from us. In most cases, however, people come back to us.
Suggest the measures needed from the government to mitigate these challenges?
The government can assist by partnering with the diagnostic industry and help to subsidise diagnostic tests or in other cases infuse funds towards research and development of new cost effective tests. Also, the government could help create a regulatory environment that ensures that organisations get incentivised to focus on providing the right quality.
What are the various initiatives started to bring in the next generation diagnostic techniques?
We work on two parallel dimensions in order to bring the next generation diagnosis technology to India. Firstly, we invest in indigenous R&D to develop and validate the tests locally. Secondly, we partner with global companies to introduce the most advanced diagnostic technologies and services in India.
Any expansion plans in the offing? If yes, how much do you plan to invest and how are you planning to raise the funds?
A startup must always expand. While we have scaled up (by more than doubling, even tripling each year in the past five years), we continue to behave like a startup.
We will grow along three axes over the near and mid-term future.
- First is geographic expansion: We are currently present in more than 100 cities across India and are adding new cities each month. Apart from expanding our presence in India, we have also established ourselves in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Dubai, Myanmar, Oman, and Kenya. Many other countries are in talks with us, encouraging us to expand in their markets.
- Second is technological: We have recently added a number of exciting technologies including liquid biopsies and a series of additional tests on the next generation sequencing platform. We are in the process of adding a few other technologies. Our investors – Artiman and Fidelity – have a very extensive portfolio in the diagnostics industry. That gives us an extensive pipeline of tests that can be launched in India.
- Third is clinical specialty: We have recently added infectious diseases, reproductive disorders, rare disorders and neurology to our test range. We are focussed on expanding both our oncology test menu as well as the newer disease areas.
We recently raised our series B of funding to support our expansion plans in each of these three areas.
Other industry players have chosen the IPO route. do you intend to do the same? Please elaborate?
Good companies are never sold. They are bought. The buyer can be the general public – in an IPO, or a strategic player who wants to expand its reach or scope.
We are in no rush for either.