“Pandemic has led to renewed focus on preventive healthcare”

In an exclusive interview with BioVoice, Managing Director of J Mitra & Company, Jatin Mahajan shared his views on various aspects related to COVID-19 besides the details of his company’s latest activities, and much more

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The Managing Director of J Mitra & Company, Jatin Mahajan is an astute business catalyst and change agent. An internationally acclaimed business leader with proven credentials, Jatin has transformed the IVD segment globally through his innovative path-breaking product offerings which occupy an enviable leadership position across 45 countries. He is a decorated patent holder himself, while his healthcare organization has the highest number of patents in India.
Internet of Things (IoT) is catalyzing astonishing breakthroughs with the convergence of healthcare and engineering, believes Jatin Mahajan, Managing Director, J Mitra & Company, one of the leading healthcare companies in India. He is highly optimistic about the growth potential of the medical technology products developed in India.
In an exclusive interview with BioVoice, Mr Mahajan shared his views on various topics including Make In India, the impact of COVID-19, details of his company’s latest activities, and much more. Read the full interview below:

How do you view the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the public & private healthcare system in India? What are the key learnings, both positive and negative in this context?
 The pandemic had a serious negative impact on the Indian healthcare system. The pandemic-driven lockdown and general avoidance on the part of the patients to visit healthcare facilities brought down the patient volume by up to 80% in the initial days, and the same is yet to recover adequately. Management of chronic diseases have either been stalled or postponed to the extent possible. Elective surgeries are still a strict no-no.
Covid-19 protocols at hospitals have led to slower services, increased costs and a general feeling of distrust. There is a major strain on the diagnostics services due to pressures of Covid-19 testing, which is likely to continue for at least 12-18 months, and all the additional cost and mental stress related to the communicability and related preventiveness of the coronavirus.
On the positive side, it has brought a lot of attention to our existing healthcare infrastructure, and the public hospitals have been revamped, upgraded and better equipped to handle emergency services. Newer facilities and infrastructure have been added to complement the existing ones.
There is a renewed focus on preventive healthcare, and this has brought the spotlight directly on the diagnostics industry as ways and means to identify ailments or possible ailments. The pandemic has drawn the focus on the IVD space in India. A segment that was earlier ignored and neglected by the policymakers is now finding its true space.
 There has been a major thrust on ‘Make in India’ within the medical technology sector by the union government. Are we moving in the right direction? What else is required to manufacture world-class technologies in India at an affordable cost?
The Health Ministry and policymakers are recognizing the need to have rules, regulations and standard operating procedures that helps in the growth of this segment. Niti Aayog, the think tank of the Indian Government has started working out a roadmap for the promotion of medical equipment manufacturers in the country. The Government has allowed 100 percent foreign direct investments (FDI) in companies manufacturing medical devices through the automatic route and is trying to remove all roadblocks and offer tailor-made solutions to attract investments.
Under initiatives like Make in India, several state governments have taken up the onus of setting up medical device manufacturing parks in their respective states and have got the approval from the Government of India to do so. While it is a good start, the progress has been too far and too little. The current environment (duty structures, rules and regulations, raw materials availability, infrastructure, know-how and trained resources, R&D costs etc) is choking the domestic segment, and driving them to a slow death.
As an industry body, AIMED has played a significant role in highlighting the factors that have stunted the growth of the segment, and working with policy-makers for a more level-playing field in India. A lot needs to be done.
Aspects critical for winning the race in the global healthcare space are – ensuring a cost advantage over other nations, faster government permissions and single-window clearances, ease of doing business, adequate financing, competent infrastructure and soft loans with longer repayments. Other focus areas are – the creation of large clusters with a common infrastructure, facilities, subsidies for technological upgradations so that there are higher sustainability and economies of scale.
How has the company responded to the COVID-19 challenge as a business entity, internally and externally? 
Change is the only constant. Accordingly, flexibility and adaptability must be incorporated in the business ethos. We are a for-profit organization, but we understand that humanity, compassion and social consciousness are extremely critical aspects. It was critical to creating an environment devoid of fear of contamination or job-loss, and we were able to create that mindset for the staff at work. We were able to keep the motivational levels high by meeting all legitimate financial needs while providing the safest and most sanitized work environment.
Innovation and business foresight are extremely important for the survival of any business. A robust business continuity plan is a must to mitigate the negative impact of large-scale disruptions, and we fared quite well in this area, even as most industry counterparts struggled to maintain business continuity because of over-dependence on select countries for raw materials.
On the product side, we are playing our own critical role to counter Covid19. We innovated and launched two of the best Covid-19 test kits –
COVID-19 [IgM, IgG, IgA] MICROLISA – our state-of-the-art Test Kit based on the Double Sandwich Elisa technology is a serology-based total antibody (IgM, IgG, IgA) detection assay for the indirect diagnosis of past exposure to COVID-19. It has a Sensitivity of 94.04 percent and a Specificity of 100 percent.
J Mitra also manufactures the ICMR-NIV developed COVID KAWACH IgG MICROLISA Covid-19 test kit which tests for IgG antibody in human serum/plasma and has a sensitivity of 96.33% and specificity of 100%.
The company has been part of various high profile government and academia collaborations. Please share more details on the same.
No organization can survive in silos. Industry, academia, technological and government linkages are very critical for the cohesive and all-round growth of an organization. Collaborations are critical for complementing any organizations’ internal R&D program, and also for bringing new research findings into the competitive markets. J Mitra & Company has been very fortunate to have strong linkages with the entire ecosystem. University and academic institutions have demonstrated extreme faith in our ability to deliver. Over the years there have been numerous high-profile and path-breaking collaborations.
Our latest has been ICMR identifying J Mitra for the manufacturing of IgG antibody-based Covid Kawach test kit that was launched in June 2020
In 2018, we launched iQuant – India’s first portable state-of-the-art Fluorescence Immunoassay Analyzer for quantitative and qualitative determination of 9 blood test parameters at the point-of-care. This was developed in collaboration with IIT Madras’ HTIC (Healthcare Technology Innovation Centre) and Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India.
The J Mitra Celiac Microlisa test kit was launched in 2014 by Dr Jitendra Singh (the then Science & Technology Minister). This was co-developed with AIIMS-ICGEB (International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology) in collaboration with the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India. The earlier part of UNIDO, ICGEB is now an autonomous international organization that has over 65 member countries.
J Mitra had developed the Dengue Day 1 test in 2009 in collaboration with ICGEB. This is a patented technology. The company has also collaborated with Tata Memorial Centre under the Department of Biotechnology sponsored HIV Western Blot test kit in 1999. This kit was launched by the then Prime Minister, Late Atal Behari Vajpayee.
What are the latest trends to watch out for in the diagnostics space (current and in the pipeline)? What kind of technological innovations should customers expect in the future?
The diagnostics segment is witnessing a movement of sorts based on digital & technological innovations.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has pervaded the healthcare space and become the absolute game-changers, catalyzing immense developments in diagnostics, detection, management and treatment of ailments. AI can analyze and interpret data in more complex and diverse combinations than a human mind, providing extremely potent data for effective and accurate diagnostics. Medical imaging has become the leading and most popular field for AI applications.
Internet of Things (IoT) is catalyzing astonishing breakthroughs with the convergence of healthcare & engineering. IoT has intelligently connecting devices, systems, and objects that are used by billions of people worldwide, to utilize and leverage data and enable more timely, specific, and contextualized decisions. Benefits include – error mitigation, decreased costs, enhanced patient experience, better disease management, remote monitoring, telemedicine, smart pills, wearable medical devices, digital records and robotic surgeries, amongst others.
In the IVD segment – Fluorescence immunoassay (FIA) is a very recent development. It is a sensitive technique that can be used in the measurement of many compounds, including drugs, hormones, and proteins; in the identification of antibodies; and in the quantification of antigens such as viral particles and, potentially, bacteria.
Tell us about your growth curve, the growth drivers, and growth strategy?
We have been on a constant growth year on year. Our story is about constant analysis, introspection, innovation, and transformation. We had to change when the economy was liberalized and there was increased competition from MNCs. To meet the onslaught of the international biggies, we made our own systems and processes very sound and robust; aggressive automation to mitigate the risks of human error; enhancing our CRM to keep complete tabs on customer requirements and pain areas; a robust logistics system that ensures minimal time lag between production and delivery to end-customer, thus reducing the need for extensive storage facilities as well as mitigating the losses that happen at warehouses.
We have a very stringent audit and reporting mechanism that not only highlights impending issues but also ensures that performance enhancements are driven at all levels. We continue to identify the industry’s best practices and ensure its implementation and adherence within our organization. We have continued to focus on our people’s well-being and progress, and they have continued to be the champions within the organization driving its continuous and steadfast growth. Marketing has been another key focus area. We continue to expand into newer markets while further consolidating our presence in the existing ones. We continue to maintain strong connections with the clientele, understanding their needs, and endeavoring to address them as much as possible.
 What is your outlook for future business opportunities and the growth of the company?
With the launch of the Covid-19 test kit, we have our hands full. Domestic and international demand will keep us busy. If need be, we can triple the production capacity within 3-4 days, thus our dynamic manufacturing units do not need any major expansion.
We will continue our spread and consolidation of the international business, reaching out to and serving a larger section of mankind.