COVID-19, the novel coronavirus infection, which began in Hubei Province, China in December 2019 transformed to an unprecedented worldwide crisis in great speed. The pandemic caused snap lockdowns, social distancing and an alarming number of loss of human lives across the world – all this, resulted in grave humanitarian and economic loss, globally. In Sri Lanka, the pandemic has claimed over 14,000 lives already. Ever since the first case was detected in early 2020, Sri Lanka experienced several lockdowns and travel restrictions which caused most economic activities in the country to come to a standstill.
Across the world, the outbreak of COVID-19 also spurred widespread scientific research from prevention, cure to detection. LOLC Advanced Technologies collaborated with the Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC) through Ceylon Nano Diagnostics Pvt Ltd. (CNDL) to introduce the loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) method for the first time in Sri Lanka to curb the limitations of the standard coronavirus detection method approved by the World Health Organization which is RT-qPCR method. This novel process is similar to the conventional PCR tests, with the exception that the nucleic acid amplification occurs at one temperature. As a result, certain mandatory equipment for PCR such as a thermal cycler is not required. This method of detection being quicker, easier to use, and more cost effective than RT-qPCR tests in terms of diagnosis, has many advantages such as wide pH and temperature ranges that are acceptable, the ability of the assay to accept non-processed samples, and the flexibility of the readout methods, all the while maintaining specificity and sensitivity that is about equal to that of the PCR tests.
Ceylon Nano Diagnostics Pvt Ltd. is a Joint Venture (JV) company established to produce RT-LAMP kits and other research and development initiatives related to the molecular diagnostics field. LOLC Advanced Technologies is the management entity for CNDL on behalf of Browns Pharma Limited’s shareholding of 50% while SLINTEC bears the balance 50% shareholding.
SLINTEC has successfully demonstrated the use of RT-LAMP as a robust method for SARS-CoV-2 detection in clinical specimens in Sri Lanka. Even though, several detection methods are available in the LAMP assay, SLINTEC has developed the RT-LAMP kit with the fluorescence detection which is the most sensitive method that can be performed using RT-PCR machine which is currently used for detection of COVID-19. After demonstrating the proof of concept, the SLINTEC RT-LAMP assay was validated against the existing RT-qPCR test at Sri Jayewardenepura University (SJP), by analyzing RNA extracted from more than 200 patient specimens supplied by SJP. This was followed by analyzing virus samples isolated from positive patients supplied by National Institute of Infectious Diseases (IDH) using RT-qPCR available at SJP. Subsequently, the SLINTEC RT-LAMP kit was validated independently by the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) at three different laboratories (Infectious Diseases Hospital, Karapitiya Teaching Hospital and Medical Research Institute) for its performance. Having carried out a GMP compliance audit, the NMRA has also given the green light to manufacture the product at the CNDL production facility. In addition, the Ministry of Health has given their consent to use the LAMP technique in Sri Lanka. After a stringent compliance audit, the manufacturing facility was awarded the GMP Certificate to commence manufacturing and finally the product obtained the NMRA approval for commercial use in the Sri Lankan molecular diagnostics market. Although RT-LAMP is new to Sri Lanka, it is currently being used in several other countries including USA and UK.
Commenting about the collaboration, LOLC Group, Deputy Chairman Ishara Nanayakkara said, “At LOLC, our increasing investments in science, research and technology derives from our passion and thirst for knowledge and scientific innovation which is centered on local value addition. I am pleased to note that this collaboration has done just that and especially at a crucial stage of an evolving pandemic. As a Group, we are committed to continue to work and invest in such value additions whilst providing local scientists and researchers the opportunity and platform to explore and make use of their skills and knowledge”.
LOLC Advanced Technologies (Pvt) Ltd. is the research arm of the LOLC Group. The company provides advanced technological consultation support to companies under the LOLC umbrella in the fields of precision agriculture, process improvements for cinnamon agronomy and value addition, new product development in plant nutrition and agro-chemistry. LOLC Advanced Technologies was set up to explore sustainable business opportunities in the market with augmentation of Science and Technology. It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of LOLC Holdings PLC.
To capitalize on the marketing, distribution, technical and application services in the market, CNDL entered into an agreement with Avon Pharmo Chem (Pvt) Ltd., a long-standing leader in the molecular diagnostics market in Sri Lanka.
Dilip K. Fernando, CEO of Avon Pharmo Chem Pvt Ltd said, “Avon possesses the country’s best application, technical team and marketing processes in serving the biotechnology and molecular diagnostics laboratories. We are confident that the COVID 19 test kit produced in Sri Lanka can be instrumental in resolving the challenges faced by the country right now. As we have already received a better response from the private sector COVID-19 testing laboratories, we are fully engaged in training laboratory staff for adopting the technology faster so that all the laboratories can use the kit soon.”
Commenting, Dr. Naresh Handagama, CEO of SLINTEC said, “The COVID 19 test kit developed by the scientists at SLINTEC according to industry best practices, compliance and protocols, has been commercially launched for the Sri Lankan molecular diagnostics market. This is the first of its kind in our history that a test kit of this kind has been able to successfully pass the hurdles of very stringent GMP and NMRA standards certificates together with a series of other validations and trials in many laboratories. When COVID hit our country, many industry leaders engaged in various activities to support the government’s battle in combating the COVID 19 challenge. But, LOLC looked for sustainable ways of facing this issue by investing in science and technology expertise and infrastructure. When SLINTEC announced their engagement in test kit development, LOLC leveraged the idea that could support for future developments as well. This initiative is of great national importance as we are now able to produce this test kit locally and save the outflow of foreign currency from our country whilst better serving the nation with improved performance”.
Seven factors of concern at upcoming Monetary Policy Review
by Sanath Nanayakkare
The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) is scheduled to announce its latest monetary policy review on 20th January 2022, with all eyes on dwindling foreign reserves and foreign currency exchange in the country.
In this context, First Capital Research has named 7 factors of concern that could be taken into account at the upcoming monetary policy review. They are as follows.
* Foreign Reserves USD 3.1 billion – Dec 2021
* Inflation CCPI 12.1% – Dec 2021
* GDP Growth -1.5% – 3Q2021
* Private Credit LKR 60.5 billion – Nov 2021
* 03M T-Bill rate 8.38% as at 12.01.22
Liquidity and CBSL Holdings LKR -364.0 billion and LKR 1.42 trillion
Balance of Trade (BOT) and Balance of Payment (BOP) USD -6.5 billion and USD -3.3 billion for Jan-Oct 21
First Capital Research’s Policy Rate Forecast – Jan 2022-Apr 2022 notes that they believe the CBSL may highly consider tightening the monetary policy rates in this policy review but given the concerns over economic growth, there is a probability of 40% for CBSL to maintain its policy stance at current levels.
“With high frequent indicators improving in line with expectations, we have eliminated any probability of a rate cut. We expect a continued increase in probability for a rate hike in order to prevent overheating of the economy amidst the given fiscal and monetary stimulus,” they said.
As per First Capital’s view, CBSL either can choose to hike policy rates by 50bps or 100bps or hold policy rates steady, while a rate cut is off the table due to the high debt repayment and the high domestic borrowing requirement.
First Capital believes that there is a 60% probability for a rate hike due to the remedial actions required in achieving external stability.
However, there is also a 40% probability to maintain the policy rates at its current level in order to further improve the high frequency indicators.30%, they noted.
Sri Lanka’s dash brand enters international markets
Multichemi International Ltd, which manufactures and distributes a wide range of products under dash, one of Sri Lanka’s leading detergent and household care brands, has begun exporting its products to several international markets in Asia and Oceania, with plans also to enter Africa. The dash brand includes a wide range of products in car care, household care, home fragrances and laundry care sectors. Multichemi International Ltd, which has been awarded ISO 9001:2015 certification, is a Sri Lankan pioneer in environment-friendly cleaning products, having launched the country’s first biodegradable, safe cleaning products over 28 years ago.
Amila Wijesinghe, General Manager of the Company said,”Having conquered the domestic market, we are now ready to capture the international market. We are confident that our products which are of high quality will receive a good demand overseas as well. The feedback we have received so far from our overseas customers is extremely encouraging. We are dedicated to taking our products to the international market, to bring in foreign currency to the country and help uplift the economy”,
Janaka Abeysinghe appointed SLT CEO
Sri Lanka Telecom PLC has announced the appointment of Janaka Abeysinghe as its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) with effect from February 1, 2022.
The incumbent CEO Kiththi Perera will be overseas on leave for a period of two years to pursue higher studies, according to a stock market filing by the company.
Abeysinghe joined SLT in 1991. In his present role, he leads the enterprise and wholesale business of SLT that provides integrated voice and data solutions to enterprises, government institutions, domestic telco operators and global wholesale carriers.
In his career at SLT spanning 29 years, he has held a number of senior positions, including general manager Enterprise and International Sales and has extensive experience in the areas of Enterprise Digital Services, Enterprise Communications Solutions, Data Communications, Business Development, Domestic and International Switching Operations and Global Wholesale Voice & Data Business.
He holds a Master’s Degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Kansas, USA and a BSc degree in Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering with a First Class Honours from the University of Moratuwa.
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