The local diagnostics industry is likely to achieve an unprecedented sales growth this year, as global demands for Korean test kits surged amid the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
A significant number of test kit makers have signed supply deals in just several weeks that were more worth than the last year’s annual revenue.
According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Health Industry Development Institute, 34 companies have obtained export approval for diagnostic agents and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) equipment as of Monday. At the initial COVID-19 outbreak in late January, only eight had the license to export test kits.
Nineteen companies received the export nod for PCR agents, including reverse-transcription PCR (RT-PCR) kits. They are Cancer Rop, Bioneer, Osang Healthcare, Bio Sewoom, iNtRON Biotechnology, Seegene, Solgent, SD Bio Sensor, Kogene Biotech, SML GeneTree, DowGene DNA Testing Company, Seasun Biomaterials, YD Diagnostics, LabGenomics, Wells Bio, Gencurix, GeneMatrix, PCL, and PaxGenBio.
Four companies – SugenTech, Humasis, Boditech Med, and GenBody -- have been approved for the export antigen/antibody rapid diagnostic test kit.
Many countries favor Korean COVID-19 test kits because of their high accuracy, according to reports. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said over 100 countries had requested cooperation to supply Korean diagnostic kits.
Local diagnostic manufacturers said they were signing several export contracts daily. One of them had supply agreements worth 10 billion won ($8.2 million) in a couple of days.
The soaring global demand is expected to push up the sales of local diagnostic firms. As the world recognizes the credibility of the test kits, the industry’s growth could continue even after the COVID-19 crisis ends, some observers said.
LabGenomics has reportedly exported test kits worth over 15 billion won to the U.S., Kuwait, and India. The size of the deals is about half of the company’s annual sales last year.
PCL received 1.8 billion won worth orders for diagnostic kits in the past several days. The volume is 50 times larger than the last year’s revenue of 36 million won.
Bioneer is also aggressively shipping nucleic acid extraction reagents and PCR equipment. The company agreed to supply 5.7 billion won worth nucleic acid extraction reagents to Romania and Lebanon, and 5 billion won worth PCR equipment to Qatar. The combined exports of COVID-19 test kits, nucleic acid extraction reagents, and PCR equipment exceed half of the last year’s sales.
Bioneer also registered its hepatitis C virus test kit on the purchase list of the Global Fund. This international non-profit financing organization fights against AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
Solgent has been registered as a company for stockpile procurement by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The registration allows the company to provide its test kits across the U.S.
Earlier, the company signed a $2 million deal to supply its diagnostic kits to Europe. The deal alone is worth one-third of the company’s annual revenue last year. Solgent is now supplying test kits to the U.S., the Philippines, Ukraine, Poland, and the Middle East.
Osang Healthcare, also as a stockpile procurement firm by FEMA, will supply test kits for 1.8 million people in the U.S. and Brazil. Although the company is a latecomer in COVID-19 diagnostics, it was able to sign export deals rapidly.
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