Synthetic Cannabinoids: The New Age of Medical Marijuana
July 22nd, 2019
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Believe it or not, the world’s first blockbuster drug is still one of the most commonly used today. Acetylsalicylic acid, better known as Aspirin®, is a synthetic derivative of the natural substance salicylic acid, an extract from the bark of the white willow tree. Any company would like to invent a drug that enjoys 100+ years of massive global usage and the possibility exists that cannabis could play a role in making that happen for someone.
Charting a Similar Path
People have been using salicylic acid to treat inflammation and fevers for over 2,400 years. That’s right, when Greek engineers invented the catapult about 400 B.C., they may have used salicylic acid to treat their achy joints after moving some heavy rocks into position. Later, chemist Charles Frédéric Gerhardt made a breakthrough in 1853 by creating acetylsalicylic acid for the first time. By 1899, Bayer dialed-in the chemical structure and was selling Aspirin® to the world.
Hemp, a cousin to cannabis that lacks tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid responsible for the psychoactive high in marijuana, is regarded as one of the world’s oldest industrial crops. It’s history dates back more than 10,000 years.
About 8,000 years ago, cannabis seeds and oil were used for food in China, with the first documented use of medical cannabis happening by Chinese Emperor Shen Neng roughly 4,750 years ago. Interestingly, the Chinese world for “anesthesia” (mázui 麻) translates to “cannabis intoxication” because it was used to sedate people (along with wine) before surgery.
Now that the ending of cannabis prohibition is sweeping the globe, there has been a huge upswing in laboratory and clinical research as biotechs and pharmas seek to bring new cannabis-based products to market. Will one of these drugs become the next aspirin?
In an interview with Bloomberg, Marc Feldmann, an immunologist who helped discover a class of drugs that includes the blockbusters Humira and Remicade, commented that there is “massive potential” for the medical uses related to cannabis. Dr. Feldman now has dedicated himself to the market opportunity, teaming with cannabis researcher legend Dr. Raphael Mechoulam to start Toronto-based CannBioRex Pharmaceuticals.
While most companies are looking to the cannabis plant for active ingredients, Dr. Feldmann believes that the key to a new class of drugs resides in synthetic cannabis.
Dr. Joseph Tucker, an experienced executive and expert in synthetic active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and drug development and commercialization, shares the view of Dr. Feldmann insomuch that synthetic cannabis represents the future for purity and repeatability in cannabis-based drug development. Dr. Tucker is the Executive Chair and Co-Founder of Willow Biosciences (CSE: WLLW)(OTC: CANSF) with the purpose of becoming the largest manufacturer of biosynthetically produced cannabinoids.
The synthetic biology company was formed this year through the merger of BIOCAN Technologies: a team of experienced executives from Calgary and researchers from the University of British Columbia, and Epimeron: a team of researchers from the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.
“In addition to consistency and reproducibility, synthetic cannabis can be a much more cost-effective process than plant-based extraction or chemical synthesis, the only options that companies have today,” said Dr. Tucker in a phone interview with CFN Media. “Based on our estimates, biosynthetic production is about 90% faster and cheaper than plant-based extraction. We are of the opinion that synthetic processes will ultimately re-shape how cannabinoids are produced and open new gateways to advanced pharmaceutical opportunities to help people in medical need.”
Willow’s scientific progress is complemented by a team of experts in other areas of business, including CEO Trevor Peters. Peters has co-founded four startups in the last 15 years and been involved in corporate exits totaling more than $4 billion. He was most recently CFO at Caracal Energy, a London listed energy company which Glencore (OTCQX: GLNCY) bought in 2014 for $1.4 billion.
“We’ve got a great, well-rounded team at Willow Biosciences that can execute on our initiatives,” said Dr. Tucker. “There is a growing library of evidence to the effectiveness of cannabinoids. This will provide tailwinds for drug companies to push hard to utilize cannabinoids in new therapeutics, which should have us well positioned to fill future demand.”
How Massive is Massive?
Clinically speaking, there are more than 300 cannabidiol (CBD) and other cannabinoid-based treatment options currently in human trials for indications such as PTSD, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, schizophrenia and others. The APIs are being sourced from traditional methods, which keeps research on promising rarer cannabinoids out of reach. In order to tap into this market, an economically viable production method, like synthesis, is necessary.
Historic sales of cannabis-related drugs have been splotchy at best. The market for Marinol (dronabinol), a synthetic pill based on tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and approved in 1998 for treating nausea and vomiting in cancer patients and anorexia in AIDS patients, was about $150 million in 2016.
On the other hand, analysts are higher on new drugs. Evaluate Pharma forecasts that Epidiolex, the novel CBD drug of GW Pharma (NASDAQ: GWPH) approved last year by the FDA for treating two rare forms of childhood epilepsy, will reach blockbuster status with sales topping $1 billion in 2021.
More broadly, the U.S. cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals market size is projected to grow to $50 billion annually by 2029, according to Ackrell Capital’s 2018 Cannabis Investment Report. Analysts at Cowen predict that U.S. retail sales of CBD will reach $16 billion by 2025.
Willow Biosciences plan is to be a leading player catering to both markets. In order to achieve this goal, Willow last month partnered with Noramco, the largest supplier of controlled substance APIs in the U.S. and biggest producer of pharmaceutical APIs in the world. Specifically, the two will work collaboratively to develop a yeast-based biosynthesis platform for the production and distribution of CBD.
Noramco is stepping up to tap into this burgeoning market. Per the accord, Willow will take care of expenses related to optimizing the yeast strains and Noramco will take it from there. Noramco will cover the costs for scale-up, regulatory submission, marketing and distribution through its extensive global network.
The beauty of the deal for a small company like Willow Biosciences is that both partners will share equally in the profits.
The above article is sponsored content. Emerging Growth LLC, which owns CannabisFN.com and CFN Media, has been hired to create awareness. Please follow the link below to view our full disclosure outlining our compensation: http://www.cannabisfn.com/legal-disclaimer/
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