How many more kits would you be delivering?
We will be delivering about 3 million test kits in the first phase. We have delivered the first lot and the second one is lined up for the next week. It will take us a few months to transform and develop these kits in India. Therefore, the first phase of our collaboration with Livzon revolves around bringing these kits to India and delivering them to the government within the shortest span of time.
Why was there a delay in the delivery of these kits?
The ICMR had given orders to multiple companies. Most of these companies were not being able to bring the kits due to an uptick in global demand and 99 per cent of these manufacturing companies are based out of China.
There has been a lot of doubt raised over the accuracy and quality of these test kits. How have you addressed this?
There were some queries related to accuracy of the companies manufacturing these test kits. The Chinese government scrutinised most of these manufacturers and ten companies were shortlisted out of a pool of 50 for credible quality and proper standards. Only these ten companies are allowed to export the rapid testing kits for Covid-19. We selected Livzon because it is credible and the firm complies with all standards. They were among the first ones to make the antibody test of Covid-19 in China.
When will you be able to begin manufacturing these kits in India?
In two months from now we can probablu begin manufacturing these kits in India. We cannot delve deep in to the details as of now.
Do we still need to import these kits?
More kits will be in demand as community based screening, surveillance programmes will be conducted. Not only ICMR, even the state governments need these testing kits.
Besides these diagnostic kits are you also providing the RTPCR kits? Will you manufacture them as well?
We have provided close to 500, 000 such kits in partnership with BGI genomics in the last week of March. Whoever claims to manufacture them in India is actually only assembling the components which are made outside India. We have a capacity to bring 1 million kits every week. Government has recently floated some inquiries, and we have submitted our bids.
Which of the two kits do you think India needs more right now and is there a big cost difference?
We need technologies which can be implemented on the grassroot level. Real time test has its own strength. It is however, a very complicated process which takes a few hours and needs a lot of expertise, precautions and safety because you're handling a live virus. If we really need a lot of screening, a lot of testing down the line, then you need something which is very cost effective and does not require high end expertise. People are currently living with thermal scanning, images, temperature monitoring. If we complement that with the rapid test, we can get a fair bit of idea. Government’s suggestion to do pool sampling is also a great idea as it reduces the cost by five times.
Why haven’t we been able to make these in India?
The real time test kits have three components, and none of them are manufactured in India. We are doing a lot of sequencing work in our lab in Gurgaon. We are in the process of undertaking a large sequencing programme with the government. Right now we do not know the depth of the virus we have in India which has come from different places so there are many variants. We are doing about close to 100 to 200 samples in sequencing.
Have you been given any demand or price assurance from the government?
A lot of our plans will actually depend on what the demand would be two months from now. A lot depends on whether we will still need these kits. Nobody needs them in China today since the virus is over. I think government assurance will be more to support the technology breakthrough, such as a vaccine.