Quality and Affordability – The Two Keys for Success

New Delhi based Oncquest Laboratories grew from an R&D lab and has made a niche for itself in molecular diagnostics as well as oncology. Dr. Ravi Gaur,

MD (Pathology), COO, shares with S Meera, the company’s journey and future vision. 

Dr. Ravi Gaur, MD (Pathology), COO,Oncquest Laboratories

Please share the journey of Oncquest from a struggling research wing to a multinational high-end diagnostic centre.

We started with advanced technology platform of molecular biology (PCR) and later added Histopathology& IHC, Flow-Cytometry, FISH, Genetic Sequencing based tools, advanced haematology, immunology, microbiology and biochemistry to our portfolio.Oncquest Laboratories has been a forerunner in the molecular diagnostics services space for over a decade in India. Its beginning as a research-focused entity in 2001 has had a significant impact on the way it evolved, making it one of India’s largest molecular oncology laboratories with strong footprints in South East Asia.

These developments have been supported by our growing pan-India network of collection points and direct associations with hospitals across geographies including Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Tashkent, enabling clinicians to use Oncquest as a source of knowledge to track trends and developments in oncology.

The end users are the real foundation of continued advances in the technologies employed. It is crowd sourcing at its best! The key is to involve the huge knowledge-base which already exists in the form of medical practitioners and research bodies to come up with the next big thing in this segment.

For Oncquest, future advances in technologies at both ends of the spectrum will allow for a more targeted approach to the market, while continued growth in the areas already defined would see greater permeation in the high-end clinical activities in India and abroad. 

Key learnings that helped in scaling up and achieving this growth…

For success in healthcare space, you need 100 per cent focus on quality and ensure affordability. It is very important to build trust and credibility in healthcare.  

What are the challenges research and development organizations face in India, be it financing, talent or market reach?

R&D has conventionally remained capital intensive due to long development cycles. With fast emerging new technologies and stringent approval processes, the development costs have gone up significantly.

Talent is an equally important issue. There is no shortage of talent in India, but what’s more important is long term commitment to deliver, and providing the right infrastructure and tools to work. Investing in building a strong skill team is time consuming and needs finance too. Funding has traditionally been a big challenge and still remains so. The government of India should provide more funds to private R&D centers for faster, affordable and assured results.

Productivity and efficiency can be achieved only step by step with sustained hard work, relentless attention to details and insistence on the highest standards of quality and performance

What are the regulatory and policy challenges and how can it be bettered?  

Diagnostic industry is not governed by any regulations. Though some states are trying to put their basic act together, it’s going to take a long time for complete implementation. NABL is the only recognized body for quality accreditation. However it’s a voluntary process and not mandatory. Out of one lakh plus pathology labs, only about 700 are currently NABL accredited. There is a strong and urgent need to put some regulations in place to deliver quality services.

Similarly, approval process, especially for trials and new assays, is very arduous and time consuming. Although in the last two years, a lot has been done in this space, much needs to be done to encourage fair play and award innovative mindsets.

I feel that the government should list out urgent healthcare needs, allot priorities and work on them one by one. A focused approach will help us address immediate urgent problems and there would be better utilization of our limited resources.

You have small and cheaper laboratories on the one side and hospitals with their own high-end labs on the other. How do you meet the challenge at the two ends of the spectrum?

Along with the required conventional strength, we are geared up to be more adaptive and innovative to counter regulatory and fulfill consumer demands, which in turn are instigated by the technological advances in the field and global scenarios.

There is a significant opportunity where quality accredited services are required to bring the Indian end-user experience at par with global standards. We are very excited about the possibilities.

What is the USP of Oncquest?

At Oncquest, we believe in providing high quality and technology driven comprehensive diagnostic solutions that are validated for India specific population. Our technical team works very closely with the prescribers as a clinical solution provider. Our technically trained field force across geographies is trained to provide customized solutions and personalized services. We bring most advanced technologies to India, validate for Indian environment and then ensure its availability to masses at a very affordable price.

Kindly share your team size, profile and the retention and up skilling strategies.

We have a strong team of 500+ employees, including 130 + doctors, scientists and technologists with rich experience in molecular biology and pathology. We encourage and fund our staff to actively participate in all relevant scientific workshops/webinars etc. We conduct internal training at regular intervals and ensure that all employees are up to date at any given time. We have a strong technology driven sales and marketing team along with support teams.

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Oncquest’s growth has been supported by our growing pan-India network of collection points and direct associations with hospitals across geographies

Can you briefly share the logistics of how your collection centres work and coordinate with the closest lab? How do you ensure uniform quality?

Our strong field force across geographies is committed to deliver in time. The team is supported by well-equipped logistic and centralized customer care centre. We provide regular training and refresher courses to maintain the quality of logistics. We have 300+ collection centers, 1500+ business associate partners and primary hubs. With our strong network, we can pick up samples from every part of the country and transport it to our central or regional labs in controlled temperatures (ambient/refrigerated and Frozen). We use temperature controlled boxes with a real time monitoring. Our International Logistics Operations comply with IATA/ICAO regulations. We have set protocols which are validated for safe packaging and smooth movements of samples in cold chain conditions.

We have very stringent quality control systems in place at all locations. Our labs are as per NABL guidelines. We participate in international and national EQAS. Probably, ours is the only lab network in the country to run our own internal quality assurance program. We use LIMS, a central controlling tool for all our functions. 

Can you tell us the extent of your R&D activities and its impact on the organization?

We were born out of an R&D centre, and are probably one of the very few pathology labs in the country to have our own R&D department. We have been the first to offer many new assays, such as RT-PCR based diagnostic assays, FLT3: for AML prognostication, JAK2: For polycythemia Vera, among others. We work with many pharma companies for their patient support programmes and trials. Our investment in R&D helps us generate a strong product line for the future and offer well validated services to all our clients. 

Your vision and roadmap

 We will soon be expanding our operations internationally, especially in South Asia and Africa and building more referral labs in various parts of the country. Our international partnerships have helped us offer best assays to all our clients. Soon we will offer well validated liquid biopsies, circulating tumor cells, new biomarkers for early diagnosis of cancers, digital pathology services, point of care assays for life style and other infectious disease and much more. We were the first ones to arrive in the molecular oncology space in India, and I am sure we will remain much ahead of all providers in future too.

Our mission is to discover disease at the earliest, diagnose using the best-in-class technologies allowing for a more personalized therapy and finally, effectively defend the patient from recurrence of the disease. We aim to extend the survival and improve the quality of life of patients protecting them from a wide array of disease with special focus on cancer and lifestyle disorders.

The Turning Points

Oncquest Oncology, the specialized core of Oncquest Laboratories (accredited by the College of American Pathologists or CAP & NABL), offers a range of laboratory tests for understanding the molecular basis of malignant transformations of the cells. These tests are designed to provide diagnosis and prediction of disease progression and can be used to tailor treatment to the individual patient’s cancer.

Oncquest’s recent advances in the areas of Companion Diagnostics and Pharmacogenomics have also allowed for and encouraged greater penetration of Personalized Medicine into the Indian healthcare market, making it the future epicenter of the much technological advancement in healthcare.

Our research also extends to the study of genetic differences between previously studied western and far eastern ethnic groups and those more prolifically representing India. With a varied sampling of data from across India, Oncquest released several Pharmacogenomics based assays in the areas of Oncology, Cardiology, and Gastroenterology. With substantial interest from CROs and Pharmaceutical companies, our assay-on-request services have become an avenue for association with most of the top research bodies in the country.

In 2010, Oncquest forayed into General Pathology and Hospital Laboratory Management services, leveraging its already national network to partner with hospitals and medical institutions, as well as with individual physicians. Currently, we are a network of 33 Laboratories across India, performing almost 15000 plus tests per day.

Meera Srikant has been working with publishers and publications since 1993, writing and editing articles, features and stories across topics. She also blogs and writes poems, novels and short stories during leisure. Writing for The Smart CEO since 2010, she is also a classical dancer.

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