Pune start-up makes affordable, accessible Covid-19 test kit

Geeta Nair
Apart from its novel technology, the company is working on low margins to keep the kits' cost low and it will be 50% to 60% lower than the imported kits, Kawade said.

The first consignment of home-grown Covid-19 testing kits from Pune-based MyLab Discovery Solutions is all set to be dispatched to government hospitals across the country from Wednesday. Mylab co-founder and executive director Shailendra Kawade said they will start with around 15,000 units per day and go up to 25,000 in two to three days. "We have open orders from all government labs and all the big private labs," Kawade said. They will be ramping it up to 50,000 per day soon.

"When the virus hit the US and Europe, we realised the virus would come to India and started working on it," says Kawade. "We are dependent on the US and Europe for these kits and these are expensive too, so we decided to develop this in India and offer it at Indian prices," Kawade said. The danger on depending on the US and Europe was that at some point, these countries will decide to focus on their own people and may not allow kits to be exported to India. MyLAB’s test kit costs one-fourth of the imported kits, does the tests faster and can detect the virus in the early stage itself. Apart from its novel technology, the company is working on low margins to keep the kits' cost low and it will be 50% to 60% lower than the imported kits, Kawade said.

MyLAB specialises in molecular diagnostic kits and has developed these test kits called Mylab PathoDetect COVID-19 Qualitative PCR kit. Kawade and Hasmukh Rawal founded MyLAB in 2016 after working together at Thermo Fisher and realised that India had unique problems that needed Indian solutions and it could not be imported into the country. Totally self-funded, the duo have a trading business and a manufacturing business with revenues of around Rs 44 crore. The Covid-19 kits are being manufactured at the company's manufacturing facility in the Lonavala Industrial Estate.

They were the first company in the country to make ID-NAT screening kits for quantitative HIV, HBV and HCV kits for blood banks/hospitals. "These are deadlier virus than corona virus and that experience helped us develop in a record time," Kawade said. India’s regulatory bodies have approved this kit in a record time, he added. The company has invested Rs 16-Rs 20 crore in the last two and a half years and has not sought any external investor or government subsidy. "We have put our sweat and blood into the business," Kawade said.

India was not testing enough to know the extent of the coronavirus spread as only limited labs could do so and the kits were inadequate. The government is sourcing millions of testing kits from Germany but it is a logistical nightmare, with airlines grounded. A home-grown solution could be useful and local sourcing of test kits will be a major breakthrough for India.

MyLab Discovery Solutions says its test kits can test about 100 patients with one kit. An average lab with automated PCR can test more than 1,000 patients a day. The company said it detects the infection within 2.5 hours, compared to over seven hours taken by current protocols. This means that laboratories will be able to do twice the number of reactions in the same time on one machine.