Sri Lanka renowned as the Pearl of Indian Ocean is bestowed with the vast majority of natural forests that could herald the much needed economic prosperity to the country. It is time the island taps its natural wealth referred to as the “Green Gold” resources which has remained intact for centuries.
It is a well-known fact that these forests, which still cover around 16 percent of the country’s landscape, possess a huge economic wealth apart from their natural beauty which could have the potential of turning around the entire economy. Medical fraternity of the world has been increasingly heading towards the adoption of biotechnological drugs and medical practices as those are proven to be free from the side effects and this trend has resulted in an unprecedented demand for the biomedicines produced using the rare plants and seeds.
As usual developed countries like US, Japan, Germany are in the forefront of developing bio technological products and medicines and the developing countries like Sri Lanka where much of these rare plants are found, has become only the suppliers of these rare plants and seeds earning a fraction of income that could have been earned by the developing of world class bio medicines.
This situation has triggered a worldwide bio piracy involving a massive plundering of natural resources in less developed countries. Sri Lanka has long been a hotspot in terms of richness in biodiversity over centuries and the country has miserably fallen a victim of bio pirates. Our combating efforts for this menace have so far been limited to conventional means such as nabbing these kinds of illegal pirates at the airports and other places, imposing bans on exporting of rare plants and seeds, etc and no satisfactory, concrete efforts have yet been taken to utilize these resources to yield economic value to the country.
Firstly, the area of biotechnology should be given a high priority in the national policy setting. Development of this sector should not been perceived as an isolated area that generates financial benefits but will also improve the nutrition and the overall health of the entire country’s populace. Since the attention given by the apex policy-makers to this sector has been regrettably minimal, there is a dire need of allocating more resources such as budgetary allocations for the advancement of this sector and creating conducive environment in the universities to conduct more researches aiming to develop biomedicines and biotechnological products.
Government should provide financial and non-financial incentives to universities and pharmaceutical companies to engage in collaborative research using indigenous plants and seeds. There are enough people who possess the knowledge and skills in this regard and if these are not adequate, leading foreign universities can be invited to setup research centres or other types of facilities to engage in research work. These initiatives would ensure the smooth transferring of the foreign technical expertise in this regard to the local university sector and the building up of the smooth relationship between the two parties. In the long-term Sri Lanka would be popularized as a leading destination for conducting researches on biomedicines and biotechnological products and this would pave the way for country to attract high profile researchers and universities.
After the final product or medicine is developed, the ownership of the drug or product would be a source of friction between the local and foreign parties and such disputes could be avoided if a flexible regulatory and legal mechanism is in place to generate a win-win solution for both parties.
Sri Lanka’s health sector is overwhelmingly dependent upon the conventional western drugs and annually millions of dollars are spent on this purpose. Hospitals of the country should be induced to use the locally manufactured biomedicines and this would facilitate to save a considerable amount of foreign exchange. Manufacturing facilities should be constantly developed with up-to-date technologies and local pharmaceutical companies should be promoted to produce more biotechnological medicines through the offering of financial incentives and subsidies. This mechanism would allow the locally produced medicines and products to successfully compete with the conventional western drugs both in terms of quality and cost.
Global bio theft and piracy has soared to an unprecedented level and on the other hand, many researches are being conducted on developing biomedicines. Surprisingly, some of the world’s best biomedicines have been produced using the rare plants endemic to Sri Lanka and the patents have already been obtained for those products. This gives the patent owning country an exclusive right to produce that medicine for a particular period and precludes the accessibility of other countries to that market. This situation is growing at an alarming speed and countries like Sri Lanka should be ready to cope with this situation.
According to the worldwide analysts, global market for biotechnology and medicines has been grown at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of around 12% from 2012 to 2015 and will reach a value of nearly USD 425 billion by the year 2017. Currently, higher share of this massive market has already been reserved by developed countries and if prudent policies are adopted to develop this sector which is arguably environmental-friendly and less hazardous, Sri Lanka would be able to capture a sizeable market share of this lucrative market.