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Yona Levy is the CEO of Alvit Pharma, an Israeli-based company specializing in the development of pharma-grade cannabis products. With over 20 years of experience in business management and investment banking, Levy has brought his skills to the cannabis industry, and with the team at Alvit, they aim to lead the world in the standardization, optimization, and delivery of products alternative to smoking medicinal cannabis.
Three main takeaways for the progress of pharma-grade cannabis products with Alvit Pharma
1. Make cannabis speak in a language that doctors understand
Alvit Pharma has been able to position itself as a leader in the development of cannabis-based products by applying the team’s expertise in pharmaceutics and healthcare industries to steer the language used around cannabis to one doctors understand.
In thinking about the practical nature of prescribing cannabis-based products Levy notes the options are currently limited. Whether recommending a patient flower or oil, a doctor cannot be certain about what the patient is really getting from it. Cannabis is not a singular thing with standardized impacts on patients. Different strains have different effects. Some strains may put a patient to sleep; others will keep a patient awake. Some suppress appetite while others encourage it.
With cannabis being made available as pharma-grade products, doctors can be informed about the bio-viability of a product and can understand what active ingredients in that specific product are helping the patient: essentially, the kind of information a doctor would expect with non-cannabis pharmaceuticals. By developing standardized and optimized pharma-grade products, Levy argues doctors will feel comfortable in two key ways. First, they will be assured products will not harm the patient, and secondly, they will understand why it helps the patient.
The benefits of developing pharma-grade products extend to their impact on the healthcare insurance industry. By having a rigorously tested product, insurance companies can get behind the product. Once fears about liability (present with flowers and oils in which their known clinical indications are unclear) are waived, such products can foreseeably become readily offered affordable treatments for patients, therefore, bridging the gap between cannabis and healthcare systems.
2. Vertical integration is critical for success
For Alvit Pharma, vertical integration is critical to ensure the control necessary for the standardization and optimization involved in drug development. While Alvit’s original strategy was to focus solely on pharmaceuticals (since it is in this field wherein their team’s expertise lies) it became apparent that just buying the active plant ingredients (API’s) from other sources would not be reliable enough to facilitate a controlled drug development environment.
Levy reports that if you’re not controlling the growth of the APIs, you might not have consistent access to what you want. To facilitate this, vertical integration becomes necessary. Levy does state if they find someone who can help in the process in a particular way, such as in extraction, they will use the opportunity. Essentially, Levy states, Alvit will do whatever they have to do to produce the product.
This stance on vertical integration is interesting when considered alongside critiques of it hailing from US cannabis markets. In some states in the US vertical integration is prohibited, for example in Washington state. Critiques of it include how vertical integration makes it harder for smaller firms to get ahead since not everyone can afford to get involved with cultivation, processing, and retail. Alvit presents an insight into how vertical integration may create the conditions for more significant research and development opportunities.
3. The Israeli government is the biggest barrier to Israel becoming the world’s cannabis industry leader
The medical cannabis program in Israel is the oldest and most advanced in the world. It was Israel where the primary psychoactive compound in the plant, THC, was discovered in the 1960s; and unlike in the United States, clinical trials are allowed on human patients. It’s easier to be awarded the relevant licenses, acquire the facilities and find the brains needed to conduct related research.
Policies about exporting cannabis products abroad from Israel have been in limbo since 2016. Both external and internal factors are influencing this, including US President Donald Trump’s administration’s hard-line approach against cannabis and inner fears some plants grown for export will infiltrate and create a more extensive domestic recreational market. Furthermore, Levy reports there are not enough doctors prescribing cannabis in Israel. These are challenges which still need to be addressed.
Levy states Israel has developed a beautiful brand in cannabis, for example, its conferences like CannaTech are an example. However, this is not enough for Israel to fulfill its potential and become the world’s cannabis industry leader. More steps are required, with policies around exporting cannabis products a critical factor.
Alvit Pharma is in the right place to push the progress of cannabis in both Israel and beyond.
Levy foresees a future shift where cannabis is going to be increasingly grown in places with suitable climates for the plant, such as in Israel. As in the US, demand has changed over time from flowers to oil to product: Levy foresees this trend being followed elsewhere. This demand from flowers to actual product validates the area which Alvit Pharma is working on. Levy reports, in the next 12 months, they plan to sell products in Israel, in countries where it is permitted in Europe, as well as in Canada.