The share of the cheaper and faster antigen tests for Covid-19 over the more accurate RT-PCR diagnostic tests has been rising in the country over the last few months. But with the threat of a second wave of cases, this trend could reverse as state governments look to rely more on RT-PCR tests.
The Maharashtra government has mandated RT-PCR tests for people entering its borders from select states via air, road or rail, with tests to be done 72 hours prior to the journey.
Dr Nikhil Phadke, founder and chief scientific officer of GenePath Diagnostics, which has developed and manufactures its own Covid-19 RT-PCR test kit, said that in the last few months, they had seen a decline in RT-PCR testing as both governments and individuals had been opting for the cheaper rapid antigen tests.
“In the last few days, after the Diwali break, we are seeing an increase in RT-PCR testing again. We believe this is due to increasing infection rates, reducing cost of RT-PCR tests, and the much higher sensitivity and accuracy of these tests versus antigen tests,” Phadke said.
Pune-based molecular diagnostics company Mylab Discovery Solutions is also seeing a renewed interest in RT-PCR test kits and machines, MD Hasmukh Raval said. Mylab was the first Indian company to make these kits indigenously and has also developed its own compact testing machine — an automatic molecular testing machine that reduces test time with minimal human intervention as well as errors. Mylab offers both RT-PCR and antigen testing kits and said they will be nearing two crore tests in total.
A Mylab Compact XL machine has recently been installed at Delhi airport. Raval said the company is developing compact mobile labs using the Compact XL machine, which could be placed outside hotels, educational institutes and corporate parks. Mobile units are also being planned for rural areas to let RT-PCR testing reach underserved customers, he said.
RT-PCR tests were expensive to begin with, but the cost has been coming down from around Rs 2,500 per test to a few hundred rupees, depending on where the tests are done. Cost is now down by almost 80%.
According to Phadke, they have passed on the cost reduction achieved through R&D and local manufacturing operations to customers and patients. “Today, an RT-PCR test at our Wakdewadi (Pune) drive through facility costs Rs 850. Three months ago, the same test used to cost about three times as much. It is our mission to deliver high quality and affordable testing services to those who need them,” Phadke said.
More than 140 companies have regulatory clearance to offer Covid-19 test kits in India. A majority of them are foreign-origin companies or Indian companies procuring and trading these test kits. A small percentage of these are Indian companies manufacturing and selling indigenously developed kits. Globally, the Covid-19 diagnostic market is estimated to be close to $1 billion already.