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The cannabis sector comes with its considerable share of roadblocks. From legality issues to the pricey cost of commercial cultivation, cannabis is a challenging industry to navigate, but this may soon change with the emergence of biosynthesis processes.
Organigram Inc., a leading licensed producer of medical marijuana, recently invested $10 million in Hyasynth Biologicals, boosting its access to the biotechnology of producing biologically identical cannabis ingredients in a lab without the high costs of a grow operation. All through the process of biosynthesis.
What is Biosynthesis?
In a nutshell, biosynthesis is an enzyme-catalyzed process that refers to the production of a complex chemical compound from simpler precursors in a living organism. Regarding cannabis, biosynthesis can be used to produce cannabinoids which are biologically identical to those provided by the plant, unlike the synthetic production of cannabinoids.
This technology involves inserting a gene into yeast (or a similar system like E. coli) and growing it for three to five days, then using proprietary enzymes to convert the molecule into various cannabinoids.
The Role of Human Biology
As we are learning, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a crucial role in regulating body physiology. Science shows cannabinoids and other components of cannabis play an essential role in modulating many physiological systems in the human brain and body. Besides the legal setbacks to research, many minor cannabinoids occur in tiny percentages, as little as .1, .01, or even .001 percent of the plant material, making the cost of research astronomical and largely unattainable.
Biosynthesis has the potential to cut the cost of research, opening the door for new medical discoveries and the way we understand the human endocannabinoid system.
How Will Biosynthesis Impact the Cannabis Industry?
Traditional cannabis production has a significant set of hurdles including legality, cost of production, and inferior product. While the manufacturing of synthetic cannabinoids is a potential means of sidestepping the prohibition of agricultural cannabis production, many efforts in this area have failed. Biosynthesis is a superior, disruptive technology that may have profound impacts on the production of cannabis.
- Problem of Volume – The extreme volume of harvested cannabis results in only small amounts of the drug for medicinal treatment (i.e., three pounds of cannabis flower may only yield 50 grams of purified cannabinoids).
- Cost Savings – Biosynthesis could mean scaled production with a fraction of the cost.
- Sustainability – The growing demand for cannabis means a more significant strain on resources. Cannabis plants require a lot of water, land, and electricity. Because cannabis derivatives and ingestible products make up a large portion of market sales, biosynthesis could move a good part of production to the lab.
- Access to Minor Cannabinoids – We haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to understanding minor cannabinoids and the ECS, primarily due to the accessibility and cost of testing minor cannabinoids. Biosynthesis could remove the financial obstacles which have previously hindered the research of these tiny, yet promising, molecules.
- Pure Cannabinoids – The Canada-based biopharmaceutical company, InMed Pharmaceuticals, Inc. is utilizing biosynthesis to create cannabinoid products with greater than 95 percent purity, free of pesticides, and in a consistent fashion – factors existing cultivation methods cannot accomplish easily.
Leading Biosynthesis Companies
Biosynthesis is microeconomics meets science and is drawing a growing interest in the future of cannabis. Without enough product to meet the growing cannabis demand, prices become exorbitantly high. Similar to the way Genentech changed access to insulin. Before being produced in a lab, insulin was extracted from the pancreas of pigs and cows and aspirin was initially sourced from tree bark.
Similarly, these companies are leading the way in advancing biosynthesis for cannabinoid production:
- Hyasynth Biologicals – A biotechnology company based in Montreal, Canada, and leader in the field of cannabinoid science and biosynthesis reached a massive milestone with a $10 million investment from Canadian LP, Organigram Inc.
- Anandia Laboratories – Acquired by Aurora Cannabis in 2018, Anandia Laboratories is a global leader in cannabis testing, genetics, and research and development. The company has been publishing research on the topic of biosynthesis since early 2012.
- Ginkgo Bioworks – In partnership with, Canadian LP, Chronos Group, Ginkgo Bioworks was founded by MIT scientists in 2009 and has developed into a global leader in cannabinoid research.
- InMed Pharmaceuticals – Using biosynthesis, InMed Pharmaceuticals is currently developing drugs for three disease areas: Epidermolysis Bullosa, Glaucoma, and localized orofacial pain. They are also one of the few leaders in biosynthesis which are a publicly traded company.
Needing access to rare compounds is not an unusual roadblock in the medical industry, but biosynthesis may open the doors for new scientific discoveries in cannabis while reshaping the public’s access to its therapeutic benefits.