Mumbai: Shravan Subramanyam, managing director of Roche Diagnostics India Pvt. Ltd, is optimistic about the growth of diagnostics industry in India, with the market evolving and concepts of preventive healthcare and monitoring gaining importance.
He expects the gap between innovation globally and its availability in India to close fast as the market is maturing and appetite for high-tech products is increasing. The Indian diagnostics supplier industry is valued at $700-800 million, growing at about 15% annually. Edited excerpts:
Which are the new trends in diagnostics globally as well as in India?
The good thing is that the gap between innovation globally and when it’s available in India is fast closing. And that’s for various reasons. The Indian market is evolving, maturing and Indian appetite for some of these high-tech products is also increasing. In cancer specifically, sequencing is a major trend. In India, it has largely been restricted to academic and research type organizations, but it is rapidly entering the clinical space as well. The other thing that I see probably more in future not so much now is the influence of technology or IT in diagnostics. The industry is moving from being a pure play hardware driven business to a technology-enabled business. The use of clinical algorithms and IT algorithms to look at treatment decisions is picking up. It’s a bit abstract at the moment but I expect that to be more a part of how diagnosis is driven in future.
What are Roche’s plans to grow its diagnostics business in India?
India is clustered as high-growth markets for Roche. As the healthcare market grows and the laboratory market grows, Roche is there for the ride and will grow along with it. The Indian market is evolving a lot from pure play diagnostics into a little bit of prevention, prognosis and monitoring. So, with that, we are also developing our capabilities and our products to ensure that we are playing in all these spaces. Roche particularly plays in the clinical chemistry and immunology space in a big way, which accounts for a large chunk of our business and, to a fair extent, in all the other areas of specialized diagnostics.
We are doing a lot of work in molecular diagnostics and in histology, where actual tissues are tested. We are trying to create awareness, work on infrastructure, provide tools and working across spectrum of prevention, diagnosis, monitoring and prognosis.
What is Roche’s India-specific strategy?
We work as a fairly independent affiliate because the responsibility of our global organization is to come up with products, come up with innovation and then our responsibility is to look at that technology and find the best way to apply it in the Indian context. By that, I mean it could be in the disease area which is most prevalent and the technology that addresses it best.
Given our population and given where we see a lot of needs, we have looked at some areas. Women’s health is definitely a very significant area of importance and we are channelling our resources towards it. Oncology is a huge challenge and Roche has a pretty deep culture and understanding of oncology.
So, these are two big areas. The other area which is evolving and going in the right direction is infectious disease and blood screening. So, we do a lot of work in the blood banks. We screen blood of donors through specialized technology called nucleic acid testing. That’s an area where we are investing a lot. Roche does not manufacture in India and we are not looking at it at the moment. We do a lot of work in R&D on product development, and IT development through third parties and collaborations.
What kind of R&D is taking place in the diagnostics sector?
R&D in diagnostics is evolving a lot. Earlier, diagnostic companies used to do lot of work in isolation but now they do a lot of work together with pharma companies. Roche Diagnostics does work with several pharmaceutical companies so that simultaneously, the drug and the test for a targeted therapy can be developed.
When pharma companies are doing trials, we do it in parallel with same patients, same samples. It is called companion diagnostics and that’s a new emerging field. In the oncology space, companion diagnostics is very big. In India, it is still in a nascent stage. We call it companion diagnostics because it has a label connotation.
On the label, you say this drug is linked to this test specifically. This research is done either on cost-sharing basis or contract basis. Apart from this, there is work done on hardware, on reagents—that is, the chemicals used for each test—and some work that’s being done in IT. We also have to go through clinical trials and different phases of approvals before the products are brought into the market. The pathway is slightly different from drug clinical trials and it is sort of more aligned with medical devices.
How is the competitive environment in India?
The competitive landscape, you have the usual suspects that are present globally. The market is dominated by MNCs but there are a lot of Indian manufacturers and a lot of companies that import and sell it through the distributor model. Half the business is traditional MNCs. There are a lot of opportunities in preventive healthcare and screening space. Monitoring and prognostics is also sort of seen as important, but core diagnostics is fairly well-served. In terms of pricing, we have that autonomy to price for the market. We price a product on the basis of what we believe is the clinical value. Our portfolio is large, so there are some tests which are commoditized where you have to play on price and some are highly specialized, clinical value tests where it is more about clinical messaging than price. Roche tends to play in the highly automated, high volume and very sophisticated category.
Is Roche developing products for testing antimicrobial resistance?
We are doing research around this, but a lot of it is the pipeline stage; so I wouldn’t be able to comment on it as of now.