APAC: Diagnostics in the Post-COVID Era

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COVID-19 has pushed diagnostics to the forefront of healthcare conversations across the world. Here, three leading lights from the Asia-Pacific medtech industry weigh in on what the new diagnostics paradigm might look like as the pandemic recedes.

 

Sanjay Prabhakaran, president Asia Pacific, Hologic

“One positive outcome of this pandemic is that healthcare awareness about quality testing has risen. This has been true on an individual level where consumers today talk about Covid PCR and Antigen tests with some level of awareness, but also more importantly governments are now realising the importance of investing in high-quality diagnostic testing capacity and capabilities. COVID shone a light on those countries that had been well-prepared post SARS in 2003 but in reality, no one was adequately prepared for the magnitude of the Covid pandemic.

 

Governments need to start thinking proactively about advance purchase agreements for better pandemic preparedness, to build the capabilities and infrastructure to do testing on a massive scale

Sanjay Prabhakaran, Hologic

 

“We believe that governments need to start thinking proactively about advance purchase agreements for better pandemic preparedness, to build the capabilities and infrastructure to do testing on a massive scale. If a country does not have some level of capacity and capability built for routine testing, then during a pandemic it is very difficult to scale up as engineers cannot travel, trainings cannot be done at short notice, and staff must start from the basics on a product, technology, or platform for which they have limited or no experience. Time is of critical essence during a pandemic as Covid has taught us the hard way. Risk management is like a seatbelt in a car; most of the time you do not need it, but in a crash, it is the difference between life and death.

“During COVID, we got our engineers on the front line to install the machines and conduct remote training where possible. Hologic has installed a significant amount of Panther machines globally, which has helped us to perform millions of COVID tests across the globe.”

 

Gideon Ho, co-founder & CEO, Histoindex

“Many companies have ventured into AI, and there are start-ups using AI to advance drug development, including NASH. However, when it comes to biopsy analysis, as far as I know, all the companies built their AI model around stained tissues and use these algorithms to analyse the stained images. We are the only company that digitizes stain-free biopsies, using our proprietary biophotonics technology and platform for stain-free AI-based digital pathology. This is a huge differentiator.

 

As the saying goes, a rising tide raises all ships. We have benefited from this increased awareness even though we do not work in the COVID-19 space

Gideon Ho, Histoindex

 

“COVID-19 has thrown out some prevalent industry assumptions or conceptions. We can see that COVID-19 vaccine and drug development timelines were dramatically shortened. What used to take years to do could be done in basically less than a year. This goes to show that if there is a problem urgent enough and people are willing to invest the resources, time and effort, we can find solutions very quickly. As the saying goes, a rising tide raises all ships. We have benefited from this increased awareness even though we do not work in the COVID-19 space.”

 

Lance Little, Managing Director (Asia Pacific), Roche Diagnostics

“Looking across the region, pre-COVID, we have already seen a general development of diagnostics within healthcare at an organic pace. There has been an increase in what might be described as first-world thinking within labs, which have become much more geared towards patient-centricity, automation, the use of new tools and so on, bringing them more in alignment with what you might see in Europe or the US. Despite that, before COVID hit, diagnostics as a sector was still very much the unknown and unsung hero in healthcare.

“Putting it very pragmatically, when a patient sits in front of a doctor, the doctor has three sources of input: their subjective interactions with the patient and their symptoms; imaging; and in vitro diagnostics (IVD). Despite this, the value of diagnostics has been completely underrepresented, with only about two percent of healthcare spending globally going towards IVD. Imagine if we doubled that investment to four percent, you could increase access to life-saving diagnostic tools and make new innovations available that support clinical decision making by putting meaningful information in the hands of physicians.

 

Over the past 15 months, COVID has brought diagnostics out of the basement, so to speak, and placed it at the front and center of healthcare policy and decision-making

Lance Little, Roche Diagnostics

 

“COVID has changed the storyline. Pre-COVID, the general public did not really understand what diagnostics were. If I was at a barbecue, and someone asked me what I did, I would say I work in diagnostics and would be met with blank stares. Now everyone knows what a nasopharyngeal swab is, they know what a PCR test is, and so on.

“I tend to use the idea of diagnostics being forgotten in the basement as an analogy because that is typically where hospital labs are located. However, over the past 15 months, COVID has brought diagnostics out of the basement, so to speak, and placed it at the front and center of healthcare policy and decision-making.

“[Whether this dynamic will be here to stay] depends on how well we do our jobs, to be honest. Society has a very short memory. This is in fact one of my biggest fears: that diagnostics is relegated back into the basement after the crisis passes, which would be very unfair to patients and everyone involved in their care.

“This is why one of my objectives is to continue to drive the value of diagnostics. Now that we are front and center of healthcare discussions, it is time to emphasize the value of diagnostics beyond COVID. Countries and healthcare institutions need to move towards a mindset of prevention. Cervical cancer is a great case in point because the cervical cancer screening programs that have been created in many countries on the back of the latest HPV testing technology have saved the lives of so many women globally. Cervical cancer is curable if detected early, so diagnosis is so critical in this disease state. But a mindset shift is needed and we can only work towards this if diagnostics remain at the front and center of people’s minds even after COVID passes.”

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