Decoding those genes and your baby’s health

V Sajeev Kumar | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on March 04, 2017

Girish Mehta

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court rejected a plea to abort a 26-week-old foetus with Down’s Syndrome. While the case raises multiple questions on living with such a condition and the support systems available to patients, one solution would be early detection of such conditions.

Out of the 26 million new-borns every year in India, about 35,000 have Down’s Syndrome, a chromosomal disorder. A Non-Invasive Prenatal Test (NIPT)can detect as early as the ninth week of pregnancy if the foetus has such a condition, says Girish Mehta, Chief Executive of Bengaluru-based genetic research and diagnostic company MedGenome India.

But such a screening, he agrees, is a challenge because of the cost. MedGenome charges about ₹32,000 for each test. Most tests cover all chromosomal disorders including major ones like Down’s Syndrome, Edwards’ Syndrome and Patau’s Syndrome.

State screening

Since a large number of children are born in government hospitals, MedGenome hopes to work with State governments to provide these tests at discounted rates, says Mehta.

Till recently, many of these advanced tests were not available in India, and samples had to be sent abroad, involving huge costs. This invariably discouraged most people to even consider such screening.

But MedGenome has tied up with genetic testing company Natera Inc to carry out such tests in India at affordable rates, he explains. India, according to Mehta, is an emerging market for genomics especially with the rising awareness among the middle-class and the presence of modern hospital facilities.

“The need of the hour is to prioritise genomics studies like that of other dreaded diseases like AIDS, and cancer for raising a healthy society,” he says.

MedGenome is now looking to counsel parents on the benefits of such screening and is associating with about 500 hospitals across the country. The $16 million (₹105 crore) company would like to double its turnover next year by expanding its operations to smaller markets as well as venturing into Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Iran, and so on.

The molecular biology market in India is estimated at $100 million and is controlled by a handful of players including SRL, Metropolis, Oncquest and Dr Lal Pathlabs.

And as the services increase in this segment, it remains to be seen if price will become the differentiator that attracts or puts off the parents to be.

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Published on March 04, 2017
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