SRL Diagnostics, which operates the nation’s largest network of pathway labs, has approached INSACOG to be part of a national genomic surveillance effort.

The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genome Consortium, or INSACOG, is a network of 38 government-owned laboratories set up to monitor the genetic variations of the virus that causes Covid-19. The SRL application, if approved, may open the door for more private laboratories to participate in genome sequencing efforts to capture virus variants, especially with the advent of the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

More samples from people infected with the Covid virus are being sent for genome sequencing in India, to determine if any individual has the Omicron variant, explains Anand K, CEO of SRL Diagnostics, explaining the rationale behind their request to participate in INSACOG’s efforts.

“The application is under review,” he told Business Line, adding that their reference laboratory in Mumbai was already doing genome sequencing to identify markers to guide cancer treatment. He added that the lab had already validated protocols for sequencing the genome.

With Omicron-triggered Covid-19 cases on the rise in many countries, Anand says India’s diagnostic labs are now better equipped to deal with a potential surge, than they were during the second wave earlier this year.

SRL, for example, has 426 laboratories, fairly distributed across the country, he said, with about 2,100 collection centers. About 22 of their labs are ICMR-accredited to handle Covid-19 samples, he said, adding that their capacity to handle tests has increased to 80,000 per day. He added that the peak pregnancy during the second wave was about 40,000 tests per day.

More organized players

Under the umbrella of Fortis Healthcare (now owned by Malaysia’s IHH Healthcare), SRL reported revenue of €1,030 for the year ending March 2021. Revenue from non-Covid testing has started to see a return, he said, calculated at ₹ 331 crore. Of the total revenue of Rs 403 crore posted in the second quarter or three months ending September 2021.

He said the pandemic has highlighted diagnosis, a service that was earlier on the fringes of health care. Commenting on the recent entry of Lupine and digital companies like PharmEasy (which bought Thyrocare) in the Rs 60,000 crore diagnostic sector, he said, it will help in regulating the industry where regulated providers currently cover only 16 per cent.

Diagnostic services are also currently facing much criticism over pricing, particularly in relation to Covid-19 tests, along with allegations of false reports, as states and states increasingly seek to obtain Covid-negative RT-PCR reports to allow incoming travelers. Many countries have been practicing price caps on Covid tests, the head of the SRL said. Regarding fraudulent test reports, make it clear that the SRL test reports contain double pointers (QR codes) that carry the details of the individual and the test. He urged authorities to check both indicators, to make sure they see a real report.

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