By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz, Reporter

TAIPEI — Taiwan-based Asia Pathogenomics, Co. Ltd. (APG) plans to expand its metagenomic sequencing diagnostic services to countries across Southeast Asia before 2026 to help bring more accuracy in detecting infectious diseases, its top official said on Thursday.

APG President Roger Liu said the company seeks to expand the use of “next-generation sequencing technology,” in hospitals across the region — including the Philippines — to assist medical professionals in de-termining more specific clinical treatments for infectious diseases.

“The technology for traditional detection in hospitals are based on hypothesis,” Mr. Liu told BusinessWorld on the sidelines of the Healthcare+ Expo in Taipei City, Taiwan. “[In] next-generation sequencing tech-nology, we detect unknown pathogens without hypothesis. We can sequence all the pathogens in one shot.”

Current pathogen detection methods rely mostly on culture, which only has about 30% of the detection rate, resulting in inaccurate clinical reports, according to the Healthcare+ Expo website.

APG Associate Marketing Manager Spencer Hwang said the company seeks to expand collaborations with medical centers in Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

“We know for sure that right now, Southeast Asia is currently a new emerging market,” Mr. Hwang told BusinessWorld. “It’s a good chance for us [to expand] like maybe in the next five years.”

“We named ourselves as Asia Pathogenomics [because] we want to cover much [of] Asia,” he added.

Mr. Liu cited the Taiwanese government’s New Southbound Policy — introduced by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016 — which sought to expand the country’s presence across the Indo-Pacific region by leveraging its cultural, educational, agricultural, technological, and economic assets.

He said that 10 Taiwanese medical centers are set to connect with local hospitals in seven Southeast Asian countries to introduce its next-generation sequencing technology.

Mr. Hwang added that APG is focusing on fully integrating the technology in Taiwanese hospitals before it expands to other Asian countries.

Using the traditional pathogen detection technology could lead to at most 20 deaths, according to Mr. Liu.

“[Traditional tests] need to ‘guess’ what pathogen it is,” he said. “But by using next-generation sequencing technology, we can detect viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites in one shot.”

Although the first papers on next-generation sequencing technology emerged a decade ago, its use was limited due to high costs, Mr. Liu said.

In recent years, however, the technology has become more affordable and pathogens have become more detectable, he said.

“There’s currently more than 30,000 pathogens that the database [can find] so it’s easier to use… but traditional tests can test like less than 10 pathogens in one time so it’s hard to discover what pathogen [is the source of an infectious disease.]”

Since 2019, there have been 772.17 million confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) — a known infectious disease — globally, resulting in 6.98 million deaths and a three-year pandemic.

The Philippines alone had 4.12 million confirmed COVID cases, causing 66,746 deaths.