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Esco Group CEO XQ Lin Says Pandemic is a Wake-Up Call for Health Care Investment, Infrastructure

Now’s the time to invest in health security.

As the pandemic continues its course around the globe, companies able to help are doing so in spades.

They’re sharing their stories and insights in COVID-19: Leading Through Crisis.

Singapore-based life science tools provider Esco Group is now rolling out a new line of COVID-19 swab booths and mobile labs. To meet surging demand, it has activated a new manufacturing line in its Chinese facility.

XQ Lin, a YPO member and CEO of Esco Group, recently spoke on CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia about the company’s development of these booths and mobile biosafety labs to assist in the fight against the virus.

Lin says the health crisis has served as a wake-up call to public health authorities and governments who have not invested enough in health care supplies and infrastructure.

“For the developed nations and especially the U.S., this is also a wake-up call to invest in ‘health security,’ for example, prevention rather than cure,” Lin says. “There are still payment/reimbursement system challenges in regards to diagnostics, antibiotics for antimicrobial resistance and others. Investors can keep an eye on policy and regulatory changes, which may make such areas more favorable for investment, than they have been in the past.”

Doing its part

Esco Group is one of the world leaders in biosafety equipment used in medical diagnostic labs. It has three main divisions: life science, medical, and health care.

Since the emergence of COVID-19, Esco Group has seen increased demand for its products, which are sold in more than 100 countries.

Lin says the company also has donated equipment to some areas in Southeast Asia that have been more heavily affected by the virus.

In Bintan, Indonesia, where one of Esco’s main manufacturing facilities is located, the company has taken aggressive actions to secure the community. It has distributed disinfectants and masks and reached out to community leaders.

“We were a bit concerned a few weeks ago; they hadn’t closed down the mosques to Friday prayers and allowed people to pray at home,” Lin told CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia. “I think this is how it spread in Iran in the first place. So, we’ve taken a lot of actions in the community.”

Esco Group also is closely watching the situation in India. Although India is not the worst-hit country by far, its dense population combined with an underfunded and overstretched public health care system are a cause for concern, Lin says.

“Its defense strategy relies heavily on social distancing and contact tracing,” he says. “In that aspect, the government has taken some strong measures, with the country in lockdown since late March, and this has kept the cases relatively low. However, low testing rates, disparity between health care quality and access between states, pose challenges for the country’s disease containment strategy.”

Lessons learned

India serves up a lesson from a Nipah virus outbreak that took place just two years ago.

It happened in Kerala, a state that successfully dealt with this outbreak.

“Its strong public health system, clear communication, extensive testing and strong public participation have helped it flatten the curve, when only a month ago it accounted for nearly a fifth of the country’s cases despite containing only 2.5% of the country’s population,” Lin says.

“For the developed nations and especially the U.S., this is also a wake-up call to invest in ‘health security,’ prevention rather than cure.” XQ Lin, CEO Esco Group

On the national front in India, there have been recent reports of substantial government funding approved for scaling diagnostic, testing and preparedness operations, which deployed in time could be a game changer.

“India has strong manufacturing capabilities and is in a position to expand domestic capacity for PPE, ventilators and drugs that could help equip the country better for the fight ahead,” Lin says.

Going forward, once the dust settles from COVID-19, the global medical community will need to look into enabling platforms for more rapid scale-up and design of vaccines and novel therapeutics.

Life sciences and technological innovations to watch

As far as health care innovation, Esco Group has its eye on a few areas, particularly the U.S., which is the world’s largest life sciences/pharmaceuticals market.

“We are watching the policy changes in the U.S. and Europe, which tend to drive life sciences innovation, and we will have our eye on new investment opportunities in diagnostics, and novel antibiotics, which have so far been more challenging investment areas,” Lin says.

Esco also has been incubating a biopharmaceutical contract development and manufacturing (CDMO) business, Esco Aster, which has received significant boosts, due to the pandemic.

Other sure areas ripe for investment: Opportunities resulting from deglobalization. Two such opportunities include technology that enables working from home and in health care companies increasing focus on mental health and identity.

“There will be both new challenges and opportunities arising from this trend,” Lin says, mentioning that personally, he and his wife are looking into education technology in Southeast Asia, which also has received a boost from the pandemic.

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