In Asia, new tailored COVID-19-related product and services can be on the market quickly. Many of the middle class in Hong Kong and mainland China’s cities are paranoid to take COVID-19 tests in a hospital—with no or only mild symptoms, they fear any high-risk location where contagion thrives. A new COVID-19 testing kit has been developed by insurer Prudential PLC along with a familiar Hong Kong startup and health care providers. At a cost of $126, samples (users cough and spit into test tube) are picked up by specifically trained staff within 24 hours. Thereafter, trained medics contact those who are positive. According to the marketing of the new initiative, called “Project Screen,” many consumers wants to take a test in a safe and convenient place, such as home. Wide-scale testing becomes key for countries to “flatten the COVID-19 infection curve,” allowing authorities to isolate confirmed cases rapidly.
In addition to the major insurer, the group is backed by logistics startup Pickup, the school of biomedical sciences at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Supreme Mason Healthcare, and startup genetics testing venture Prenetics. The group commits to now using the data for other commercial purposes.
Well-Funded Startup Lab
The startup, Prenetics, uses its labs to analyze the up to 3,000 tests per day. How can a startup process so many COVID-19 tests? Because Ping An Insurance Group, Lippo Group, and an investment fund backed by Alibaba Group Holding invested $50 million to make it happen. Now the startup claims it can process COVID-19 tests across three continents (Asia, Europe and South Africa in Africa).
The Market Dynamics
Prudential plans on subsidizing the cost of kits for medical workers and their family members, reports Asia Nikkei. Presently in Hong Kong, COVID-19 tests are available at government clinics for $6.45 each and more than $385 in private hospitals. Hence why the consortium has come up with the price point of $126. Targeting a certain demographic, they seek to maximize revenue potential, which involves volume.
Quality Problems/False Negatives
Despite significant funding and assumed quality product development, issues with even high-quality tests can occur. The founder of Prenetics, Danny Lung, reports that these testing kits can still produce false negatives. He noted, “There could be sampling errors, for example, the virus load is too low to be tested during the first day of inception, or customers did not fully follow our protocol when collecting samples.” How many consumers take the time to truly follow exact instructions?
Founded in 2009 with over $50 million in funding from a long list of prominent investors (e.g. Ping An, Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund), they are a leading genetics testing/digital health venture in Southeast Asia previously profiled by TrialSite News. In that analysis, we found they were headed toward success with “hard charging, dynamic and ambitious entrepreneur Danny Yeung” at the helm. The firm utilizes DNA testing technology and own and operate a DNA laboratory with what they purport is run under “international quality standards.”
The Importance of Testing in COVID-19 Containment Strategy
As noted in the recent Asia Nikkei article, wide-scale testing represents a vital underpinning of a comprehensive regional and national COVID-19 containment strategy: testing is key to flattening the SARS-CoV-2 infection curve. This helps the health authorities isolate confirmed cases rapidly and economically. TrialSite News analyzed some other successful countries employing this strategy from Taiwan and China to Thailand and Singapore. How is the Hong Kong region doing on this front? They have conducted about 12,000 tests per 1 million people—one of the highest in Asia. According to the COVID tracking project, South Korea has reached 10,000 tests per 1 million people. By comparison, the U.S. tests only 8.000 per million.