With the COVID-19 pandemic still growing in many parts of the world, time is of the essence. As cases rise, the time between testing and receiving results is crucial so as to track, trace, and isolate to prevent further infections and to administer the proper treatments and eventually the vaccines. However, with the Philippines’ limited capacity for mass testing, not only can testing be expensive, but it is also inaccessible in many parts of the country.
This is where SAHAR comes in. As a company involved in pharmaceuticals and vaccines for over 30 years, they have always been at the forefront of providing Filipinos with products that are not only effective, but accessible and affordable as well.
“Serving as the Chief Executive Officer, I have been at the helm of SAHAR’s robust operations leading the company to exponential growth and expansion by introducing innovative and future-ready products and services to its growing portfolio. These include new and upcoming ventures complementary to our existing line of businesses as well as in completely new sectors such as petrochemicals and energy” said CEO Adeel Dhedhi Bhyria,
“In my role, I navigate not only the operations of SAHAR and its subsidiaries, but also lead the company’s overall vision, strategies, and direction to build the company into a dynamic world-class enterprise with a professional and progressive corporate culture and discipline.”
SAHAR sees the current pandemic as a way to expand and better serve the community. “COVID-19 allowed us to take on new challenges for the kind of products and services we provide in the Philippine market. Most importantly, we are still constantly learning and adapting as the situation and technology evolve.” he shared.
Fuelling its growth with a focused management and streamlined operations driven by technology and data, SAHAR is always ready to move rapidly in response to customers’ changing needs and demands. This year, to expand its distribution network and grow the customer base for its products, SAHAR has forged partnerships with leading local and regional distribution giants Metro Drug and Zuellig Pharma.
As the number of COVID-19 cases swelled last March, SAHAR decided to expand its presence in the diagnostics industry to help detect infections reliably and lessen the time between testing and results. Now, not only does SAHAR provide affordable testing products for COVID-19, they have also partnered with major hospitals, numerous Local Government Units (LGUs) and initiatives such as Project ARK and Go Negosyo to increase the reach of the products. SAHAR has become a leading supplier to businesses of all sizes, from small businesses to large conglomerates for their testing needs to enable the economy to open up and remain open.
“SAHAR’s product was one of the first RT-PCR kits to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines (FDA). That was one of our initial achievements, where we managed to register our RT-PCR kit for COVID-19 and introduce it to the Philippine market early on, following which we launched additional COVID-19 related products. Continuously delivering innovations, SAHAR has recently launched Philippine’s first saliva-based antigen rapid test kit and is actively looking at future technologies for further enhancing the testing capabilities nationwide,” said Bhyria.
Although many testing kits have been developed and approved over the course of the lockdown, SAHAR’s kits are a cut above the rest due to their unique features and high reliability. The kits have been used and validated by various highly reputable molecular labs and medical professionals in the country.
“Most PCR tests only target one to two genes, but our test is able to target three genes to deliver the highest level of accuracy and is designed to avoid false-positives/negatives.
Moreover, the kit is composed of two tubes, which makes for unparalleled advantages in pooled-testing. The idea is that for the price of 1 test, you can test 5 to 10 people, depending on the prevalence of the virus, which can significantly lower the price per test,” he shared.
SAHAR’s newly launched saliva-based antigen test is aimed to facilitate rapid detection with high levels of accuracy and become the preferred method for mass-screening as it is minimally invasive and cost-effective.
Outside of diagnostics, SAHAR is also actively involved in the treatment and vaccination efforts against COVID-19.
“We are also working on treatments, in the form of anti-viral drugs, that have been clinically proven to be effective for the treatment of COVID-19 and we are making them available to hospitals for compassionate use. In the near future, there is a very promising vaccine candidate that we plan to seek approval for in the Philippines,” he shared.
To prepare for future vaccination initiatives, SAHAR is supporting the industry by sharing its knowledge in capacity-building for cold storage and transport of vaccines requiring sub-zero temperatures. For the discussion of which he was honored to be invited to share his insights and suggestions on the effective distribution of the potential COVID-19 vaccines at a press briefing held by the Presidential Spokesperson.
Challenges in COVID-19 responses
For Bhyria, some of the biggest challenges the Philippines faced in terms of the pandemic is the lack of guidelines on how things were to be done and the lack of infrastructure for molecular testing at the onset of the pandemic. The lack of proper guidelines and experience about which test is for what purpose had caused people to panic and try to test themselves, leading to inaccurate results.
“There had been confusion whereby people started using products for the wrong purpose. If you look at rapid antibody testing, people started using rapid antibody tests to try and diagnose an active infection, but it’s not supposed to be used for that. It’s supposed to only tell you if you have developed antibodies from an infection. Therefore, antibody tests are useful in determining whether a person was recently infected and it is best used 14 days or later after the onset of illness when RT-PCR tests may turn out to be negative.”
RT-PCR (molecular testing) is the gold-standard and confirmatory test. In addition to a lack of guidelines, there was also a severe lack of infrastructure for molecular testing and insight on active cases in the community. According to Bhyria, one of the main reasons the pandemic swelled in numbers was due to a lack of “visibility into the spread of the infection” and “not enough reliable testing capacity.”
“When the pandemic started in March, the whole of the Philippines could only do less than 3,000 tests a day and there were less than 10 accredited molecular labs. With DOH’s active involvement in tandem with the private sector, the Philippines now has over a hundred labs that are able to do COVID-19 RT-PCR testing,” he added.
In addition to increasing the number of laboratories, Bhyria states that “the country also needs to grow its pool of expertise in molecular testing by promoting the training of laboratory technicians and molecular testing professionals. This would ensure that tests are conducted in the most productive, efficient, and accurate way using advanced technologies and equipment. We are actively playing our role in this to bring the industry forward.”
“I believe these have been the biggest challenges that took the Philippines some time to be able to build the capacity to test people effectively at scale. Right now, the capacity is over 35,000 tests a day and the number is going up. We are on a good track now,” said Adeel Dhedhi Bhyria.