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Ready to burn brighter

The success of lateral flow technology in diagnosing covid and detecting pregnancy has provided the foundations for a huge proliferation of lateral flow products. The technology continues to improve and expand into new areas, but I still think that medical diagnostics are massively under-valued, under-used and under-funded.

I know that the rapid in vitro diagnostics industry operates in a complex landscape. Healthcare is a tangled web at the best of times, with sensitive financial, political, regulatory and societal pressures weighing heavily on decisions that can shape its future. However, I’m yet to fully understand why lateral flow technology doesn’t attract more investment, or why it’s not embraced with more enthusiasm in the public healthcare sector.

I’ve read papers outlining GP concerns that diagnostic assistance would erode their skills by reducing the need to understand the specific circumstances of every patient. I understand the concern, but surely, having more information available is only a problem if it is used to replace the triage assessment. If reliable information is used wisely, it could help to reduce the time taken to identify a problem or improve the ability to target treatments or further tests. Looking at things the other way round, I can’t see how less information is a good thing.

Maybe there is a concern that more information would increase demand on primary care services. Knowledge might drive people into the healthcare system, when in time, the body would heal itself. I get that. The body, plus time, combined with sensible lifestyle choices, can be a great healer. However, ethically and economically, some conditions are best tackled early. Knowledge isn’t the problem; the problem is what people do with that knowledge – and online advice from approved sites can be used to guide the user towards the most appropriate next steps.

We can’t ignore the influence of the pharmaceuticals sector in the list of powerful voices with ‘skin in the game’ regarding an expanding diagnostics landscape. Their business model is complex and there might be situations where a vague diagnosis serves them better than a better-defined understanding of an illness or condition – and vice versa. It’s difficult to say, but I know of one large pharmaceutical producer with a significant IVD business and they wouldn’t do anything that would harm their core interests.

Governments and the institutions that underpin them, must be interested in game-changing technology and I include IVD tech in that bracket. The public sector invests heavily in the pharmaceuticals industry with good reason – they can cure people, ease pain and manage long-term conditions. There’s something inherently appealing about providing solutions to problems. It is less appealing to be looking for problems in the first instance, but early, accurate diagnosis is generally a very good thing. We’re not the bad guys here, we can help the problem solvers be even more effective.

Do we lobby effectively? I’ve met people who operate in the sphere of public policy and have nothing but good things to say about the majority of them. However, I’ve not managed to ignite a burning desire to take a good look at the potential of our technology and the positive outcomes that it could deliver. Perhaps I can’t adequately project my enthusiasm for what we can achieve, perhaps they’re simply not interested, or fed up with hearing about the next big breakthrough. Either way, they’re not demonstrating enough interest and the most candid advice I received was to not waste time with public institutions and to instead, focus on the private route.

In the private sector, I’m surprised that it’s taken so long to begin seeing a wider range of point-of-care tests. Boots seem to be expanding their range of MyHealthChecked products, which is something that all major pharmacy or supermarket chains could be doing (and maybe more are). Selling the tests in store and then recommending remedies that they also have on the shelves is a great fit. I’m hoping that this leads to an explosion of rapid IVD products, with consumer behaviour demonstrating the value of the products to the institutions that could already be utilising them.

Maybe the floodgates will open courtesy of the end-user. Tell a friend that it is possible to test for many more conditions than pregnancy and covid with a lateral flow test. They’re nearly always amazed and often say that for non-urgent health issues, they would rather pick up a cheap test in a shop than spend ages obtaining a GP appointment that is either several weeks away, or at an inconvenient time. We can produce the devices and the demand seems to exist.

If the consumers are ready for point-of-care diagnostics and the industry is ready to provide the devices, the only obvious barrier to rapid growth is investment in R&D and clinical trials. That’s not cheap, but it’s also not prohibitively expensive for a good-sized private company or public body.

In short, we produce fast, convenient, accurate, affordable devices that provide useful information to help target remedies and treatment. Our technology complements modern healthcare provision and while we’re fortunate to be involved in a growing industry, we’re a slow burner when we could be white hot.


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