By Mr. Raghavendra Goud Vaggu, Global CEO, Empe Diagnostics
The place of diagnostics in the healthcare delivery industry is crucial for screening, testing, and identifying diseases so that appropriate treatment or management can be done. India’s diagnostics market has grown significantly in the last two decades. Currently valued at around $14 billion and growing at a CAGR of 11.5%, the diagnostics industry in India has experienced significant transformations in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic became a catalyst that forced many diagnostics centres to increase their capacities to produce more accurate results quicker than usual.
That momentum gathered during the pandemic has been maintained following a rise in the prevalence of lifestyle, chronic, and communicable diseases which often require diagnosis. There has also been a boost in corporate patronage, with more organisations collaborating with hospitals and diagnostic centres to have their employees undergo health screenings and checkup. On their part, many of the diagnostics players have invested in more advanced technologies. This has given the country leverage to stand among the comity of nations who thrive in the sector.
But how well has India invested in R&D to boost innovation in the diagnostic sector? How responsive are diagnostic players to emerging trends and tech? In what ways is the sector responding to the increasing demands for better healthcare quality delivery? The questions are many and the realities on ground offer a sense of hope for what is to come.
R&D and the Indian diagnostic landscape
The place of technology and innovation in diagnostic medicine cannot be ignored, as practitioners continue to search for the best ways to achieve accurate results. The molecular diagnostic industry in India, for instance, is replete with a number of tools brought about by many years of painstaking research. These include hybridisation, sequencing, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and microarray, which have remained crucial technologies for effective, sensitive and rapid testing, screening, detection, as well as monitoring of several genetic disorders, chronic and infectious diseases, cancers, etc.
Investing further in R&D will help to foster growth in human capital development, drive the adoption of emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and robotics, and big data analytics, and create an atmosphere that supports creativity. These can lead to development of new diagnostic devices and technologies for more effective and reliable testing and screening. One of the challenges in the sector is the difficulty in getting these diagnostic technologies to rural and hard-to-reach areas as such places may lack energy to power the devices and manpower to operate them. These can be addressed by making technology local through incubation centres that support development of local tools that can be used in local places.
Fruitful collaborations in diagnostic R&D for improved healthcare
The diagnostic sector remains relevant across the entire healthcare circle. People get tested sometimes before seeing a doctor, some are referred by their doctors to get tested, and many of them are also asked to get tested after treatment to measure the impact of the treatment. This important aspect of biomedicine requires that only the best tools and devices be applied. There is so much more that needs to be done to boost the sector. These include having the right mix of personnel, research support with industry links, product development financing, technology access, functional infrastructure, and supportive regulation, among others.
The Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) set-up by the government some years ago is a fantastic idea that can be reengineered to spur innovative diagnostic solutions in the country. Other initiatives like Make in India, Atmanirbhar Bharat, and Indian EDL can also help to foster significant development in the sector if the right resources are mobilised and effectively utilized.