Local production of medical diagnostics needs boost, experts say

Jasmin Romero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 03 2021 11:51 PM

MANILA - Experts say it is time for Asian countries to be self reliant to be able to meet local health needs.

And this can be done by boosting local production of diagnostic products.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has really shown the limitations of the diagnostics market. With a very few global supply, and many countries who do not have local capacity for production of local diagnostics. when there is scarcity in production and supply, those countries are in the end of the queue and access quality diagnostics," said Dr. Stijn Deborggraeve, diagnostics advisor at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Access Campaign in a webinar.

The pandemic has also revealed how local scientists face challenges in producing diagnostic products.

"They are often on their own in the journey from R&D (research and development) to commercialization," said University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City Researcher Berlin Tran.

But there are ways to navigate thru the challenges, he said.

"A little assistance, such as seed funding or consultation in clinical trial and production, would go a long way," Tran said.

"For the procurement I think we should establish a consolidated scientific supplier directory. At the moment, finding suppliers is very difficult, there are very few of them," Dr. Ricardo Jose Guerrero of the Ateneo Research Institute of Science and Engineering said.

"For medical device regulations, I think there needs to be a close coordination with diagnostic research funders and the FDA to figure out the nominal pathway to the market," he added.

While the challenges can be daunting, there are already silver linings on the local front. 

CEO of Manila HealthTek Dr. Raul Destura said with the cooperation of the government, academe and the private sector, they were able to locally produce the GenAmplify COVID-19 rRT-PCR kit affordably.

"The most important thing is from US$80 we were able to reduce the cost to US$8. How did we come up with the cheapest COVID-19 RT-PCR kit? We have the Bayanihan spirit. Thru the government, academe and industrial partnerships, we were able to put all our resources together to come up with cheapest technology that can be provided for the Filipino people," said Destura.

Destura believes that this has helped reduce cost of the COVID diagnostics tests.

"You know what were the PCR costs prior to COVID in the Philippines? its a US$120 per test. So by just benchmarking the diagnostic cost of the local kit, it kinda forced the one entering the one entering in the country to match our current costing further improving the accessibility of technology overall," Destura said.

While costs of getting RT-PCR tests can still go as high as $50 in some private laboratories, it can still be brought down.

"If we do have local production by multiple suppliers with cheaper access to raw materials, I'm sure we can work on to pass on the savings to patients locally," said Guerrero.