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The Good Pill

Since its entry into pharmaceutical manufacturing in 1959, Morison (previously known as J.L Morison Son & Jones (Ceylon) PLC) has been a household name for quality and reliability with brands such as Morison’s Gripe Mixture, Lacto Calamine and Valmilex. What people might not know is that the company has also been producing bulk generics for Government hospitals and stocking doctors for years and is among the pioneers of generic pharmaceutical manufacturing. With its new state-of-the art manufacturing facility in Homagama, Morison is building towards a more ambitious venture, an exclusively home-grown pharmaceutical brand, making life-saving medication more accessible without compromising on quality. 

Responsibility is everything  

Ceylon Today had the opportunity to learn more about Morison’s vision for the future while visiting its Homagama manufacturing facility. It is the first and only pharmaceutical manufacturing facility that is EU GMP (European Union – Good Manufacturing Practice) and WHO GMP (World Health Organisation – Good Manufacturing Practice) standard compliant for general oral solid dose and liquid dosage pharma in Sri Lanka. It is the largest investment to date in Sri Lanka’s pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, amounting up to Rs 4 billion, and can cater up to 40 per cent of the nation’s Oral Solid Dose (OSD) pharmaceutical demand. 

“It was a massive investment, and something no other company has ever undertaken before,” Managing Director of Morison, Dinesh Athapaththu shared. “Investing into pharmaceuticals takes a lot of patience, on one end because it takes a long time and resources, but more importantly, because even the smallest errors can put lives at risk.”

A lot of this patience goes into the finer details of building such a manufacturing and research centre, equipping facilities and laboratories with the latest technology, developing procedures in disposing waste, and ensuring the best in quality standards to prevent contaminants from entering. In addition, such a centre in Sri Lanka takes time to be opened for commercial operations. As such, even after Rs 4 billion was spent to complete construction and the facility was opened on 2 October 2020, commercial operations only commenced on 26 May 2022, adding more delays on gaining Morison’s return on investment. 

Being on-site

While visiting the Morison facility, it was clear that the company has taken its responsibility very seriously. Everyone must wear special protective clothing to prevent even the smallest contaminants from entering. Each batch of raw materials used is carefully sampled, tested and stored until put to use. Pressurised airlocks prevent air in the manufacturing spaces being exposed to the common areas, and the air is constantly filtered and purified even when the facility is closed. 

At the time of our visit, Morison was busy in the process of manufacturing ascorbic acid pills, more commonly known as Vitamin C, and paracetamol. Peering from the airlock, we were surprised to know that the facility employed minimal staff for the production process. Each batch of active ingredient (paracetamol, or ascorbic acid) was introduced to the machine and finely mixed with excipients and other ingredients, made into pills and packaged using the facility’s automated systems. We learnt that out of the nearly 100 employees that work in the facility, only about 30 were involved in production. “Almost all of the process is automated, and we have minimised the amount of human interaction, which makes it more efficient and further reduces the risk of contamination,” Athapaththu shared. “The others were mainly involved in quality control.” 

He also noted that the facility is almost entirely run by Sri Lankans, most of whom are young university graduates. “You have to think long-term in the pharmaceuticals industry, and it’s a strength to have talented young graduates, many of whom graduated with B. Pharma and BSc degrees using their knowledge to build this industry to greater heights.”

For this purpose, the facility is home to WHO Good Laboratory Practices guideline compliant chemical and microbiology laboratories that test the quality and efficacy of each produced batch throughout its shelf life. “We take our testing seriously,” he explained. 

More than just manufacturing

But manufacturing is only one aspect of Morison’s Homagama facility. Aside from manufacturing, the centre also conducts research and development, with access to a dedicated manufacturing line with the latest and most advanced technology. “It is because of facilities like these that we have been able to develop quality pharmaceuticals and new brands for the market that are just as effective and high in quality as imported brands. Best of all, we’ve been able to do that at a half the cost to the consumer.”

Making premium healthcare affordable

Morison’s efforts in developing advanced pharmaceutical products, made in Sri Lanka has allowed them to produce trusted brands such as EmpaMor (Empagliflozin), BisoMor (Bisoprolol), and Ros-10 (Rosuvastatin), sold at a fraction of the cost of imported options. “In fact, when we introduced EmpaMor, the first and only locally manufactured pharmaceutical for diabetes treatment of its kind, we were able to drive the prices of the entire empagliflozin market down, saving more than Rs 150 million for Sri Lankan patients according to our statistics,” Athapaththu shared. 

In addition to Morison’s success entering the branded pharmaceutical market, it continues to produce generic pharmaceuticals used in Government hospitals and even in the private market under the umbrella brand MSJJ. But despite their success, Athapaththu agrees that the challenges for Sri Lanka’s pharmaceutical market are still significant.

An upstream journey to a bright future

“We all know that the Sri Lankan Government spends a lot of its resources to provide free healthcare for all. And despite us being among the first countries in the region to enter pharmaceutical manufacturing in the 1950s, we are yet to reach the level that neighbouring India, Bangladesh and Pakistan have after all this time. Part of the reason why we wanted to invest in our Homagama facility is to address this through actions, because we believe this is important for Sri Lanka and her people moving forward,” he continued. 

“We have a lot of big plans for the pharmaceutical industry in Sri Lanka, and are excited to continue our research, bringing in novel therapies to Sri Lanka by working with reputed international contract organisations. There’s also the thought of exporting what we produce in Sri Lanka by extending our contract manufacturing alliances in the Hemas Group. There’s a lot to be excited for, and we will continue our mission of making premium healthcare affordable for Sri Lankans.”

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