Financial Times

Years of research into Samahan

By Lakwi Perera
Dompe -- Brews bubble in copper pots while large stainless steel containers distil oils from various spices. A fusion of the old and the new of ayurveda and technology. This is the Link Natural Products factory at Dompe near Biyagama where production is in full swing.

Sorting the raw material

Link Natural Products, the 25 year-old company manufacturing ayurvedic medicine in Sri Lanka, was recently awarded the Presidential Export Award for Outstanding Export Performance in Herbal and Healthcare Products for the year 2006 for Samahan, which is considered their flagship product. This is the second year Link Natural Products was awarded with this prize.

Speaking to The Sunday Times FT, CEO and Chairman of Link, Dr. Devapriya Nugawela and Director Prof. Tuley de Silva explained how Samahan became the flagship product of a company set up in 1982 to manufacture generic ayurveda medicines. Samahan was developed over a period of four years and was launched in 1996 as an over the counter preventive medicine for coughs, colds and the flu. Between the idea for the product and its launch were years of research and development with input coming from a team of eminent ayurvedic doctors as well as a team of scientists, Dr. Nugawela said. Over seven million packets of Samahan are produced per month and its benefits are enjoyed by people from around the world, including countries such as India, Australia and the Middle East among others, as well as by Sri Lankans, Prof. de Silva said.

He also added that unlike in this country, the products had to undergo various tests before they were allowed to go on sale. Dr. Nugawela and Prof. de Silva both lamented the lack of a proper standard on ayurvedic medicine in Sri Lanka. “We are at a disadvantage because of this, because people think we also produce sub-standard products,” Dr. Nugawela said. Taking an example of the Swastha Thripala manufactured by them he explained that each tablet contains the same strength while this is not the case for all ayurvedic medicines released to the market. “The formulae are not standardized so each dose would contain a different strength,” Dr. Nugawela said.

Mixing the herbal medicine

“Link is the first company to fuse modern technology and the use of scientific methods with ayurveda to manufacture herbal products,” the CEO said adding that the company has invested more than Rs 100 million on R&D. The heavy emphasis on R & D can be seen in the laboratory which is equipped with sensitive, high tech equipment.

The state-of-the-art instruments are used in identifying authentic and high quality raw materials, Chamari Wickramathilake, a senior scientist at the Link laboratory told The Sunday Times FT , while showing the team around. “Some raw materials look alike to the naked eye, so we use colour chromatographs to identify what is what,” she said, explaining that a chromatograph is like a fingerprint for plants.

The same technique is used to check if material such as bees’ honey is adulterated. “Checks are done on raw material, products that are in the manufacturing process and also on the finished product,” she explained. Each batch of each raw material is tested for various parameters.

The factory too maintains international standards which are necessary when trading outside the country. As an example the essential oil distillation compound was shown, where the pillars had rounded bases to prevent the collection of dust, the windows contained mesh to prevent insects getting in and the walls were tiled to make cleaning easier. These are in accordance with the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) standards.

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