The Emergence of a New Subsector in the Cannabis Space
Amyris, a trailblazing biotech powerhouse fabricates no-calorie sweeteners, a malaria drug, and jet fuel all from baker’s yeast, is now on course to invent safe cannabinoids that are cheaper to produce than cannabis cannabinoids. As with their previous innovations, the company believes their artificial cannabinoids will free up legal and supply restraints in the cannabis industry to make cannabinoids readily available for everyone.
The legalization of cannabis has opened the floodgates to cannabis investors. In Denver, cannabis entrepreneurs running mass-scale greenhouses have caused a significant spike in the city’s electricity consumption. It’s only normal that biotech powerhouses are now wading in to help enhance the production efficiency in the industry.
“My initial impulse was ‘Hey, what?” says Jason Kelly, CEO of Gingko Bioworks, a chemical company in Boston that works with yeast. “But it was clear they have a supply need, synthetic biology is a great fit, and it’s going to be a business.”
In an interview with Rolling Stone last year, Stanton Glantz, a public health researcher and anti-tobacco campaigner, revealed that “There’s a whole lot you can do, in terms of going from the raw plant to the product that is actually consumed, that are much more sophisticated than what’s happened so far.”
A New Trend Driven By Savvy Investors and passionate Researchers Alike
More biotech powerhouses are redirected their research and development resources into the artificial production of cannabinoids at rates cheaper than cannabis cultivation. Amyris officially stated that an investor group is offering to pay as much as $300 million for them to research and develop artificial cannabinoids on a large scale.
It’s all part of a new trend driven by both the pursuit of profit maximization by cannabis investors and sheer curiosity on the part of researchers and experts. With investment funds now flooding the space, more researchers have come out of the woodwork to join the quest. They’re using biomaterials including microbes like bacteria and algae, and fermenting yeast to fabricate cannabinoids.
Researchers believe this could transform the cannabis industry into one supporting a new brand of medicine and ‘wellness’ products. These products are genetically engineered to produce distinct effects without some of the drawbacks associated with their cannabis counterparts.
The researchers are looking to reproduce just about all the hundreds of different types of compounds found in cannabis, from cannabidiol to THC, terpenes and flavonoids. Each type will be produced in mass quantities so patients can always dose on specific compounds for specific effects. The researchers are upbeat that this new wave of artificial cannabinoids will help provide more effective, non-addictive options for treating a wide range of pain, chronic ailments, and even terminal conditions like certain types of cancer.
Researchers also believe that the synthetic products will also help us better understand their cannabis counterparts and their range of effects on the body.
Keeping an Eye out for Negative Repercussions
Biotech researchers venturing into artificial cannabinoids are also wary of some negative moral, ethical, and physiological consequences of their work. src
While the frenzy is on, the parties aren’t turning a blind eye on some crucial moral and ethical implications of their foray. Companies know they’ll face an uphill battle to fulfill their bio-pot ambitions if they’re oblivious to moral restraints. “It was market research that led me to have moral research. Is there a moral question?” says John Melo, CEO of Amyris. “If we as a society consume [this] throughout the day to relax, what does that mean?”
These sentiments echo an undercurrent that’s been percolating in other biotech powerhouses currently exploring artificial cannabinoids. Governments aren’t turning a blind eye either, keeping a close tab on developments in the space. In the U.S, labs must be frequently inspected by agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency to ensure compliance with the terms of state-issued R&D licenses. In fact, many investors have been turned off by the intricacies of the legal patchwork regulating the space. They’re afraid of the risks of losing investments due to legal forks down the road.
The Road Ahead
Researchers believe that both the business and legal environments are ripe for the mass-scale adoption of bio-pot. The tremendous shift in public sentiments towards medical cannabis and alternative medicine as a whole has emboldened both researchers and investors alike to venture into the space. Experts also believe that this would create a new silver lining for the biotech industry which is currently grappling with failed biofuel projects that have flushed billions of investment funds down the drain.
The companies are also aiming for global dominance, partnering with other international cannabis firms for future expansion into foreign companies.