Mumbai: Roche Diagnostics India Pvt. Ltd, India’s largest diagnostics company by sales, plans to partner with state governments to market health services in the largely untapped semi-urban and rural areas.

Roche Diagnostics, a 100% subsidiary of Swiss-based healthcare group F Hoffmann La Roche Ltd, is the first diagnostics solutions provider proposing to tap the rural market through a public-private partnership, though several hospital groups including Wockhardt Hospitals Ltd and Max Healthcare Ltd have explored partnerships with state and municipal hospitals.

The initiative involves investment from both the company and the concerned states in sourcing products and infrastructure, and would help improve healthcare in villages by resolving the most crucial problems in traditional healthcare practices such as wrong diagnosis-led fatality, medical errors and unnecessary expenses, Bhuwnesh Agrawal, chairman and managing director of Roche Diagnostics in India, told Mint last week.

New initiative: Bhuwnesh Agrawal, chairman and managing director, Roche Diagnostics India.

Carolyn Buck-Luce, global pharmaceutical sector leader of consultancy firm Ernst and Young Llp, had in an earlier interview with Mint said this emerging trend will require collaborations among all healthcare services such as diagnostics, personalized medication providers and a wider hospitals and healthcare network.

According to a 2007-08 report by global consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers, India’s total healthcare spend is projected to grow to $40 billion (Rs1.9 trillion) by 2012. Of this, at least 25-30% is estimated to be in the rural market.

Roche Diagnostics, which has already signed a public-private partnership to develop an innovative cancer diagnostics tool in India, is currently talking to several state governments to collaborate for the rural healthcare initiative.

Agrawal didn’t want to share names of the states as the talks are at a preliminary state and would involve multiple stages of negotiations. He also declined to outline the investment plans.

He admitted that the initial response from certain state authorities was not encouraging. He is, however, “hopeful of taking it forward at least on an experimental basis".

A senior official from the state health ministry of Rajasthan confirmed that the department had considered a proposal from the company to install their diagnostic solutions in state hospitals. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

The company had in July entered into a partnership with the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) India through the department of biotechnology (DBT).

The Roche Diagnostics research will focus on the changes in human genome that are responsible for oral cancer and would help improve its diagnosis, treatment and prevention. For this, a new research laboratory, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, is being set up at Kalyani in West Bengal by the company.

Under the project, the company anticipates installation of modern diagnostic devices, especially the “near patient testing" machines that provides instant results for diagnosis and monitoring of diseases in the physicians’ office.

At rural hospitals and clinics, the doctors normally don’t opt for proper tests or depend on outside labs, which are often far away, causing delays in starting treatment.

These machines, which will be installed free of cost under the partnership, would cost in the range of Rs40,000 to Rs3.5 lakh a unit, depending on the specifications required by the hospitals.

“Our solutions include a range of cardiac markers, coagulation, clinical chemistry and blood gas. With these, a physician can perform as many as 17 different tests to check symptoms related to pancreas, liver, kidney, urine and sugar, among others, instantly by testing blood samples," Agrawal said.

Roche Diagnostics has been present in India’s diagnostic equipment and reagents market since 2002. Though the company wasn’t very aggressive initially, it gained 13% market share in the Rs2,000 crore market over the period. It is now the largest firm, overtaking Transasia Bio-Medicals Ltd, claimed Agrawal.

The financial numbers of both these unlisted companies are not available in public.

Roche is also looking to acquire novel diagnostic technologies from Indian companies and institutions, and partner with such firms for research and development in India, Agrawal said.

The Swiss group also operates its drug company Roche Scientific Co. (India) Pvt. Ltd in the country, and both these entities also jointly conduct many clinical research projects here.