COVID-19 in Latin America: diagnostics and innovation in time of crisis are fundamental tools

May 19, 2020

In this blog, we analyze some reasons why the COVID-19 pandemic could open a promising business window for companies dedicated the development of innovative and alternative diagnostic tools.

 Diagnosis is the key factor for COVID-19 prevention

Prevention and control strategies against the COVID-19 pandemic are fundamental in order to recover normality in the economy and all other aspects of a society, at least, until an effective and safe vaccine or treatment is available for the general population around the world. And given the actual status of its development, it is not feasible this immunization will be effectively achieved worldwide in less than 12 to 18 months, as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the United States, told recently to CNBC reporters1.

Meanwhile, diagnosis is a fundamental tool not only to control the spread of the disease but also to understand the dynamics of the pandemic and to respond properly to minimize the social damage.

Unfortunately, any country knows the total number of people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 and what we only know the infection status of the small fraction of the population who has been tested. The fraction of tested population is particularly low in the Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) region (Fig. 1).

Fig 1. Total COVID-19 tests per 1,000 people.

The LAC region fails to diagnose the real status of the disease

While countries like Iceland a Bahrain perform more than 100 test per 1000 inhabitants, Germany performs 33 and the United States 24 test per 1000 people, the average in Latin America and the Caribbean reaches a modest 5,13 test per 1000 people (ranging from 0,7 in Bolivia to 13,59 in Peru).

This number may be underestimated, taking into account that there is not officially updated data for many countries in the region, including the unreliable data among dates from the biggest player: Brazil2. It is clear that is not possible to calculate the total number of infected people from the testing data, but this information is vital in order to determine how good a country is doing to contain the viral dissemination and to minimize the economic and social impact of the pandemic.

In the context of the COVID-19, the key to an effective therapeutic intervention is a precise and early detection. Advances in nanodiagnostics, molecular diagnostics and personalized medicine offer fast and accessible platforms to test higher fractions the population.

The sanitary emergency imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic reinforces the idea that science, innovation and the industrial sector need to work together to support the hospital sector and improve diagnostics. During this time of crisis, governments, public and private institutions are particularly interested in increasing the diagnostic potential with specific and sensitive diagnostic probes accessible for the low-income economies that characterize the LAC region. Here is where innovative in vitro diagnostic (IVD) probes for the massive detection of the SARS-CoV-2 infection in the LAC region play a fundamental role in the control of the disease, as well as in the surveillance and the understanding of the dissemination and the therefore, the design of better strategies to diminish the negative impact of this pandemic.

An overview of the IVD industry in Latin America and the Caribbean

The IVD industry in Latin America was estimated in 9.1 billion USD in 2019 and is expected to reach 12.12 billion USD by 20243.

Developing countries register constant growth rates that ranges between 2%3 and 8.4%4 annually for the IVD industry and this growth is accompanied of rising incomes and better standards of living for a population of almost 700 million people, which means a growing demand for quality in the medical care5. Two countries in the region account for 64% of the IVD market (Brazil and Mexico, with 45% and 19%, respectively) and countries like Colombia, Chile and Peru are among the fast-growing countries in the region, given their relative economic stability, high unmet clinical needs, and the rising disposable incomes5, 6.

Nevertheless, one characteristic particular to this market is the high proportion of rural areas with no access to tertiary hospital facilities, where sophisticated diagnostic tools may be available. This characteristic, emphasizes the need for disposable and IDV technologies that allow health-care providers to transport tests without particular storing requirements, to take samples from the patients where is more convenient, with no further sample processing and that gives accurate results in short periods of time.

A user-friendly technology that doesn’t require specialized training and independence of processing or reference laboratories are key factors for the success of an IVD test for SARS-CoV-2 infection (or in general, for any infectious disease agent) in most of the LAC countries.

The COVID-19 situation will bring surely a growing number of insured patients that will require diagnostic testing, as well as an increased amount of health-care facilities available to test patients, factors that together will significantly stimulate the growth of the point-of-care (PoC) and IVD industry.

All countries in the LAC region deeply vary in inequality, poverty indexes, governmental regulations, healthcare infrastructure and affordability for testing. Therefore, IVD companies need to tailor specific and conscientiously planned strategies for approaching each market and maximize the extent of its IVD technology.

The IVD industry in the LAC region during and after the pandemic

The IVD market is expected to grow faster during and after the COVID-19 pandemic and, the advances and innovations in the technologies will support this growth. The conditions that will drive the market in near future include the particular social, geographical and demographic characteristics of this region, a rapidly evolving healthcare environment and the need for the institutions to successfully diagnose the SARS-CoV-2 status within the population. This will be particularly important with the upcoming of a prophylactic vaccine, as well as awareness of the population about infectious diseases.

One particular behavior observed during this crisis is the effort of the regional governments to increase their health sector capacity and to accelerate their regulatory procedures. It is likely that this capacity will be maintained and all regulatory affairs and public organs will be efficiently modified to facilitate market access, stimulating the entrance of new and innovative market players that will make the market significantly grow.

Final remarks

Given the above-mentioned reasons, the COVID-19 pandemic will open a business window for those innovative biotechnology small companies dedicated to the development and commercialization of innovative PoC and IVD tools. The particular characteristics of the LAC region offer them an unexplored niche to test and commercialize their tests, which can be applicable to the diagnosis and control of this viral disease, but also for those companies interested in helping to the health-care providers to diagnose fast, accurate and affordable any other kind of infectious diseases.



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