John Keells Research (JKR), the Research arm of Sri Lanka’s premier conglomerate, signed a multimillion rupee research partnership agreement with the Human Genetics Unit (HGU) of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo on 5 May 2014 to establish Sri Lanka’s first Synthetic Biology research programme aimed at new product development.

Synthetic biology is the design and construction of biological devices and systems for useful purposes. It is an area of biological research and technology that combines biology and engineering, thus often overlapping with bioengineering and biomedical engineering. It encompasses a variety of different approaches, methodologies, and disciplines with a focus on engineering biology and biotechnology.

Through this collaboration JKR and HGU, in technical partnership with one of the world’s leading technology providers – Life Technologies Inc. USA, aims to lead Sri Lanka’s pioneering product development effort in the field of synthetic biology with potential applications going beyond the field of medicine into other areas of economic importance to Sri Lanka such as agriculture and energy.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Gihan Cooray, Head of Corporate Finance and Strategy and Executive Vice President of the John Keells Group said that the aim of the group was to invest in research and development in strategic futuristic areas and to foster research and development outside the core business of the group so that initial product innovation could occur in an environment free of commercial pressures. Prof. Rohan W Jayasekara, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Director of the Human Genetics Unit said that in the 144 year history of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo this was the first time such a collaboration has been established with the corporate sector, and that therefore, it heralds a new era of innovative research. Dr. Sunil Jayantha Nawaratne, Secretary, Ministry of Higher Education, who presided over the event, stated that such partnerships are crucial in the march towards making Sri Lanka the knowledge hub of Asia.

John Keels | HGU

The picture shows the exchange of the agreement between Prof. Rohan W Jayasekara, Dean, Faculty of Medicine and Director, Human Genetics Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo and Mr. Gihan Cooray, Head of Corporate Finance and Strategy and Executive Vice President, John Keells Group. In the picture from left to right are: Prof. Vajira H. W. Dissanayake, Professor and Medical Geneticist, Human Genetics Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo; Prof. Rohan W Jayasekara; Dr. Sunil Jayantha Nawaratne, Secretary, Ministry of Higher Education; Mr. Gihan Cooray; Dr. Muditha Senarath Yapa, Head, John Keells Research; and Ms. Madushani Kannangara, R & D Scientist – Molecular Life Sciences, John Keells Research.