Roger Ferreira’s eyes light up when he talks about things like genomes, proteomes and cultivars. He’s perhaps an unusual chief executive officer in that regard — but he seems a perfect fit for Beleave, a Canadian biotech company focused on the production of medical cannabis.
Now working its way towards joining the ranks of Canada’s licensed producers, the Hamilton-based company is notable for its dedication to scientific research — and its executives are confident that commitment will give Beleave a competitive advantage in the emerging medical marijuana market.
With Ferreira, a neuroimmunologist, at the helm of Beleave, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, a Canadian government agency, recently gave the company and Professor Lesley Campbell at Ryerson University a $72,000 grant to help fund a joint research project with a set objective: To understand how some cannabis plants produce a high concentration of cannabidiol.
The compound, also known as CBD, has been used to treat medical conditions including seizure disorders, digestive problems and chronic pain. CBD doesn’t make patients feel “high.” In fact, it can counteract the psychoactive effects of the compound that does (THC).
“A cannabis strain that has a high concentration of CBD could be used to treat patients in a very focused way, in much the same way a particular pharmaceutical is prescribed to treat a specific medical condition,” says Campbell, an assistant professor in the Ryerson department of chemistry and biology. She is leading the study, which is partly funded by Beleave and Ryerson.
Campbell and her team’s ultimate goal is to develop a cannabis with a high concentration of CBD through selective breeding – like the process in which a dog breeder mates selected dogs to create offspring with specific qualities and characteristics.
The researchers will study the biological process through which these cannabis plants gradually take on the new characteristic (i.e. high concentration of CBD) and map it out. If this particular “pathway” is novel, Beleave and Campbell will obtain a patent on it.
“The goal is to breed the new strain of plant, and market it under the Beleave brand,” explains Ferriera “We hope to develop a precision plant-breeding program in the future.”
This research project comes on the heels of another one launched last year. In that project, which was funded by a grant from the same agency and by Beleave, Ryerson researchers successfully developed a new approach to extracting and isolating unique cannabis compounds. Ultimately, this could lead to the development of an oil compound with a higher concentration of CBD. A follow-up study is in the works.
Campbell is enthusiastic about these joint research projects, in part because they boost the profile of Ryerson and benefit her students. Through their involvement, they get practical experience that will ultimately help them enter the workforce. “We’re one of the few labs that trains students for jobs in Canada’s emerging medical cannabis market,” she explains.
The projects also interest her on a personal level. “There is a lot of anthropological evidence that suggests humans have been using marijuana for thousands of years, for spiritual and medicinal purposes. I’m definitely very curious about it.”
Because the marijuana industry is still in its infancy, there isn’t much empirical data for the medical community to rely on, says Ned Mikasin, Beleave’s chief business development officer. “Without adequate research findings, physicians are left guessing.”
He hopes that, down the road, Beleave’s investment in scientific research will lead physicians to “view the company’s products as reliable and tested, and feel comfortable prescribing them. Sound science makes us all more comfortable with our own product offerings,” he says, “and it gives us a real foundation for our business.”
For more information, visit: www.beleave.com.
This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Beleave Inc.