In Times of Need
By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
Sri Lanka is an economy that has relied on imports for many years. As you may know, with supply chains and distribution being dealt a major blow thanks to the ongoing pandemic, many industries have had to adapt.
While companies that imported in the past are going through this transitional phase, new opportunities have opened up for those companies that are producing what we need, locally.
One such brand is Biosafe, a joint venture between Avon Pharmo Chem and Synergybio, two companies that have been providing a tremendous service for the country’s laboratories and COVID-19 response efforts.
Biosafe is a brand that manufactures and provides a wide range of laboratory equipment including biosafety cabinets, an essential tool needed to protect technicians while conducting PCR tests and laboratory research in universities.
What is a biosafety cabinet?
If you may be wondering what a biosafety cabinet is, it’s a special workplace for safely working with contaminated material, including samples taken from suspected COVID-19 patients in order to test and see if they are positive.
Biosafety cabinets are usually imported into the country with a hefty price tag attached. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major uptick in the need for such equipment across the globe. Prices for these units have also risen tremendously. This has been a major cause for concern among countries with smaller economies that might struggle to acquire more of such equipment in such times of emergencies.
Ceylon Today reached out to the Product Executive from Avon Pharmo Chem (Pvt) Ltd Kasun Chandrasena a to learn more about Biosafe and the work they have done in fulfilling a major need in the country’s effort to defeat the Coronavirus pandemic.
Building from the ground-up
We learnt from Chandrasena that Avon Pharmo Chem was a company built from the ground-up, initially dealing with medical supplies and first-aid items, but then moved on to importing biotechnology equipment used in laboratories. Soon after, they were able to become an established name in importing and distributing such equipment.
The company continued in its dealings until the company’s CEO Dilip K. Fernando considered trying their hand in manufacturing such equipment in Sri Lanka without having to spend vast amounts of money in importing such units. This led Avon Pharmo to Dr. Suraj Gunawardhana, a talented Molecular Biologist who had started producing laboratory solutions under his own company named Synergybio. The two companies working together made the venture a viable business in Sri Lanka, even becoming an established name in the scientific community of the country.
“We initially provided biosafety cabinets for Government universities and private hospitals for their laboratories,” Chandrasena explained. “We have more than 150 Biosafe units being used in Sri Lanka throughout various laboratories.
“With the Coronavirus pandemic affecting the global supply of such equipment, countries were in need of such equipment with new laboratories being built and laboratory capacities being increased. This meant that prices for biosafety cabinets and such equipment rose greatly, while supply had to keep up with the sudden increase of demand.”
This was the same fate for Sri Lanka, meaning Biosafe became a key player in providing new testing laboratories with critically needed equipment including biosafety cabinets, PCR hoods and many other items without costing the nation valuable funds in the process.
Each unit is meticulously tested individually and international safety and quality standards are met by Biosafe and their products.
“If you calculated how much money the Government would have spent if they imported all the equipment we provided, the overall cost would have been more than US$ 200,000. Valuable foreign exchange would have been lost,” he shared.
Although prices of such units overseas have increased, Biosafe has managed to provide such equipment at a minimal cost by producing the equipment here in Sri Lanka.
Not without challenges
Biosafe has been able to provide a critical necessity in the country’s response to the pandemic while providing employment and support to the national economy in the process. Although it is a substantial achievement, it doesn’t mean that Biosafe’s journey isn’t without some major obstacles in its path.
Chandrasena informed us that their brand has also managed to grab international attention thanks to them meeting the international safety standards for such equipment. However, production has been an uphill struggle.
”Most of the components are made by us here in Sri Lanka, but some items such as the blowers and filters that are needed have to be imported because they aren’t found locally. With the tax added in importing such components, it’s a struggle to balance costs.”
There’s also the struggle of providing equipment for a niche field that relies on a specific target audience. Getting necessary certifications have also been tough for Biosafe with the lack of the relevant certificate providing bodies available in the country, all which has led to more money having to be spent on producing each unit - something that is tough for a company that has only just begun in its growth.
Still moving forward
Even so, Chandrasena shared with Ceylon Today that Biosafe as well as Avon Pharmo Chem will remain dedicated to providing for the needs of the scientific field of Sri Lanka, while placing steps forward in catering towards the export market. They also informed us that they remain ever ready to provide a helping hand to those willing to develop or produce new or existing equipment or products and reduce the country’s reliance on foreign imports.