Indian pharma majors are gearing up to develop or import testing kits for the novel coronavirus
as demand for testing picks up. Big names like Cadila Healthcare and Biocon (through Syngene) are in the process of developing indigenous testing kits (rapid antibody testing kits). Some such as Eris Lifesciences, Mylan, and Gland Pharma, among others, are also importing from international suppliers.
There are two kinds of testing for the novel coronavirus
— the real-time polymerase chain reaction test kit that uses throat or nasal swabs and provides results in a few hours, and the other is antibody-based rapid testing kit that use blood samples and provides results in a few minutes.
Cadila has also got government’s nod to import rapid antibody test kits from two Chinese firms — Hangzhou Clongene Biotech and Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech. These are CE certified, which means the product has been assessed by the manufacturer and deemed fit to meet EU safety, health, and environmental protection norms.
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A senior official from Cadila said: “We felt that as a part of the health care industry we need to step in at this time. We already have ties with traders in China, as we import raw material, and we can also import these kits that are now required in large numbers.” The company is also in the process of developing a rapid antibody test kit in-house. “Once we are able to develop the kit and get the approval from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the supplies can be stepped up,” the official said.
Biocon Chairperson Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw had also indicated to Business Standard that Syngene was working to develop a rapid antibody test kit. She felt that rapid antibody test kits are quite accurate.
Multinational player Mylan is also importing kits from Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech, while Ahmedabad's Eris Lifesciences is importing from China’s Maccure Biotechnology. Hyderabad's Gland Pharma has approval to import kits from Shanghai Fosun Long March.
Sudarshan Jain, the secretary general of the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance that represents India's top 25 pharma firms, said: “This is not being done as corporate social responsibility… this is not also for profit making. At this time of crisis, the pharma sector needs to pitch in, in all ways that it can.”
Recently 500,00 antibody test kits came in from China. But there have been adverse reports about the quality. A government source said, "Chinese authorities have taken note of reports that claim the kits are throwing up false positives. They have made stricter rules for exporters. This has significantly reduced the number of exporters from China." The source said according to rough estimates, India needs to do 100,000 rapid tests per day. The government plans to have indigenous capacity to make a million rapid antibody test kits in the country from May.
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Meanwhile, a team at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research's Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology has developed a test that can throw results in minutes. Named after fictional sleuth Feluda, created by Satyajit Ray, the paper strip-based test uses a gene editing tool to identify the genomic sequences of the virus.