Singapore-based private equity firm Temasek is investing $85 million (over ₹690 crore) in Goa based Molbio Diagnostics, which revolutionised Covid-19 RT-PCR testing with a portable, battery-operated real-time PCR platform.
"These funds from the minority stake investment will be used for domestic and external business development, overseas market expansion, and research and development", Molbio Diagnostics Director and CEO, Sriram Natarajan told Fortune India. This is the second private equity investment in Molbio, after Motilal Oswal Alternates acquired a minority stake a couple of years ago.
After Covid-19 demand for RT-PCR tests diminished in recent months, Molbio is gearing up to launch mass screening tools for tuberculosis, Hepatitis and Cervical Cancer.
Molbio Diagnostics had tweaked its 'Truenat Real-Time PCR' for Covid-19 testing and it was among the first domestic screening tests approved by the Government of India to tame the epidemic. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) validated it over 5-6 years for TB screening and also got pre-qualification from the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be part of the global plan to eradicate TB worldwide by 2030.
It is a unique laboratory-in-a-suitcase kit with patents granted across several countries, and is easy to carry and operate battery powered system that can be used even in remote areas by a technician. Claimed to be the world's first portable RT-PCR system and so far has been deployed over 6,000 units in India and abroad. When the second wave of Covid-19 came, Molbio had a plant in Goa with capacity to make 70,000 testing kits per day and it increased its capacity by five times to 3.5 lakh units per day across three plants in Goa and Visakhapatnam, investing ₹220 crore.
"Now demand for Covid-19 RT-PCR testing is very negligible and we use only 25% of our capacity, which is now being used for the mass screening of tuberculosis worldwide. We expect two large public sector orders soon as the Indian Government is planning to deploy at least one unit in every taluk of the country", said Natarajan.
Already about 3,000 units have been deployed in India and demand is for about 8,000-9,000 machines. He said the global potential of tuberculosis testing alone is about ₹3,000-4,000 crore or about 16 million tests a year.
Natarajan says the real-time PCR platform can now be used for testing over 40 diseases, including TB, Covid-19, Hepatitis-C virus, human papillomavirus which causes cervical cancer, influenza and vector-borne diseases like dengue, chikungunya and malaria. Tests for another 20-30 diseases are in the research and development phase.
The firm was started by veteran diagnostics expert Sriram Natarajan, who sold his decades old laboratory reagent firm Tulip Diagnostics to US based multinational PerkinElmer in early 2017. Molbio had teamed up with Bangalore-based Bigtec Labs, a bio and chemical processes research and development company since 2000 headed by Molbio's Chief Technical Officer (CTO) Chandrasekhar Nair. A BITS Pilani graduate chemical scientist, his team was developing an innovative molecular diagnostic platform 'Truenat Real-Time PCR testing systems to screen tuberculosis. The product was ready for scale up and commercialisation by 2017. When Nipah virus spread in Kerala, it was also approved as a point of care test for the virus.
Natarajan says the company is now planning to go global and is already present in over 30-40 countries, including many developed nations. Molbio, which generated revenue of just ₹11 crore in 2017-18, managed to get revenues of ₹1,270 crore in FY21 and ₹800 crore in FY22. It hopes to get over ₹1,000 crore revenues in this fiscal, thanks to the focus on tuberculosis screening.