By Trihan Perera

There is increasing hype and attention drawn to pharmaceutical manufacture in Sri Lanka. Pharmaceutical manufacture is indeed an attractive global industry in which Sri Lanka could participate and prosper. 

Estimated at $ 1 trillion in 2015 and expected to grow to $ 1.4 trillion by 2020, the global industry size is certainly large and growing consistently. Opportunities in pharmerging markets are growing rapidly and present new and untapped potential. However, there are reasons why Sri Lanka remained insignificant in its pharmaceutical manufacturing capability and capacity, while our regional peers zoomed ahead over the last few decades and must be addressed.

India has emerged as a significant player in the global pharmaceutical industry with a well-developed eco system, recording $ 15 billion export revenues in 2015. It is also one of the fastest growing segments of the Indian economy. We have a window of opportunity to leverage the strengths of our immediate neighbour and create a vibrant industry in Sri Lanka which could become the next pillar of our economy. However we must be careful not to squander the opportunity.

The pharmaceutical manufacturing industry is at a nascent stage contributing less than 15% of the national requirements. However, the industry has grown consistently over the recent years and is approximately double the size it was four years ago. The buds of a re-emerging industry dormant for nearly 50 years. A robust pharmaceutical manufacturing industry would benefit the country in many ways. Saving valuable foreign exchange, increased employment creation, technological advancement and R&D and potential foreign exchange earnings from exports, to name a few.

Considering recent developments in the global pharma landscape, it is not beyond us to achieve a billion dollar export industry in a few years, recognised for consistent quality in our selected segments of the industry. In order to realise the potential of this opportunity we need to act fast and intelligently. The much touted geo-strategic location of Sri Lanka would certainly be an advantage. However, there are many other things we need to get right.

First of all we need to identify the right segments of pharmaceutical manufacture to enter into where we are able to builds scale, efficiency and competence and ensure a coordinated effort in this regard. Thereafter, we need to attract sufficient industry participants with adequate capital, but more importantly, product and manufacturing expertise along with the right marketing and market access competencies. Simultaneously, we would need to develop a talent pipeline to operate these high tech enterprises in an efficient and effective manner.

Reaching near self-sufficiency and creating a new export industry that could support the Sri Lankan economy and create better health outcomes for our citizens is not an opportunity that presents itself often. The time is now! All stakeholders both public and private must plan and work together to realize the opportunity presented for our benefit and for the generations to come.

(The writer is President, Sri Lanka Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association.)