SRL Diagnostics, that runs the country’s largest path-lab network, has approached INSACOG to be part of the national genomic surveillance efforts.

The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium or INSACOG is a network of 38 Government-owned labs established to monitor genomic variations of the virus that causes Covid-19. SRL’s application, if approved, could open the door for more private laboratories to participate in genome sequencing efforts to catch virus variants, especially with the emergence of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.

More samples from Covid-positive people are being sent for genome sequencing in India, to identify if any individual has the Omicron variant, explains Anand K, Chief Executive, SRL Diagnostics, giving the rationale behind their application 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 work to identify markers to guide cancer treatment. The lab already has validated protocols for genome sequencing, he added.

As an Omicron-induced surge in Covid-19 cases is witnessed across multiple countries, Anand says diagnostic labs in India are better equipped now to handle a possible surge, than they were during the second wave earlier this year.

SRL, for instance, has 426 labs, distributed equitably across the country, he said, with about 2,100 collection centres. About 22 of their labs are ICMR-accredited to handle Covid-19 samples, he said, adding that their capacity to handle tests had increased to 80,000 per day. And the peak load during the second wave was about 40,000 tests per day, he added.

More organised players

Under the Fortis Healthcare umbrella (now owned by Malaysia’s IHH Healthcare), SRL had posted revenues of ₹1,030 for the year-ended March 2021. Revenues from non-Covid tests were beginning to see a return, he said, accounting for ₹331 crore of the total revenues of ₹403 crore posted in the second quarter or three months ended September 2021.

The pandemic had put the spotlight on diagnostics, a service that was earlier on the sidelines of healthcare, he said. Commenting on the recent entry of Lupin and digital companies like PharmEasy (that bought out Thyrocare) in the estimated ₹60,000 crore diagnostics segment, he said, it would help regularise the industry where presently organised service providers cover only 16 per cent.

Diagnostic services presently also face much criticism on prices, especially involving Covid-19 tests, besides allegations of faulty reports, as States and countries increasingly seek Covid-negative RT-PCR reports to allow incoming travellers. The SRL chief said, many States were exercising price caps on the Covid-tests. On fraudulent test reports, he clarified, SRL test reports had double indicators (QR codes) that carried details of the individual and the test. He urged authorities to check both indicators, to make sure they were seeing an authentic report.