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UK firm aims to become world-leading medical cannabis producer

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British medical cannabis company Avida Global has secured multi-million pound investment to move into commercial production next year. Those at the top tell Sarah Sinclair why they are uniquely placed to take on the sector.

In north east Colombia, just below the Andes, the beginnings of something potentially groundbreaking is taking root.

With 240 hectares of high grade flat land, abundant water and power and shelter from the mountains, Avida Global’s production facility, La Finca Manizales, is vast in its potential.

The British producer of cannabis oils and isolates founded in 2018, has recently secured £3m of investment as it moves towards beginning commercial production early next year.

The site is currently home to one football pitch sized greenhouse, but the funding will allow for the installation of two additional facilities and a custom-built post harvest room for drying and extraction.

This will take the total growing space to 15,000 square metres – putting it among the top three producers in Colombia in terms of scale. But this is just the beginning.

Avida has a license for up to 100 acres and at full production the facility will be visible from space, with 30 greenhouses – each one the size of a football pitch – producing around 20 tonnes of pure cannabis oil a year.

If it sounds almost incomprehensible, that’s because it is. The global cannabis market is growing rapidly – is estimated to be US$150 billion today and expected to grow to US$272 billion by 2028.

But in terms of where it can go, it’s still in its infancy.With a team of world-class experts, both on the ground and in the boardroom, Avida is set to be among those leading the way.

CEO David Kirby comes from a business background, having worked high up for the likes of Capgemini and Shell, while chief of operations, Carl Haffner has spent 15 years in horticulture, and chief financial officer, Peter Ryan-Bell, is a former banker who spent 22 years in the financial sector.

Meanwhile, over in Colombia the team is led by world-class scientists and agronomists, with the cost of labour allowing the company to recruit a highly-skilled workforce at a fraction of the cost.

“We pride ourselves on producing the very highest quality, but at a very low cost price for what we’re doing,” explains David over Zoom

“We’ve spent a long time assembling a team of scientists and agronomists who have three to four years experience of medicinal cannabis – in this new market that’s the equivalent of 40 years – they are some of the most experienced in the world.”

Back in the UK, Lord Benjamin Mancroft, is chairman of the company, as well as one of the country’s most knowledgeable parliamentarians on the subject of drug use and an influential advocate for legalisation.

David continues: “It gives us an air of respectability and integrity in this business. There are lots of people jumping on the bandwagon, but the way we’re doing it is with absolute integrity, we’re not cutting any corners, quality is absolutely the heart of what we do.”

He adds: “It’s a large investment to get where we need to be, but it will be worth it, because it will position us as one of the global leaders.”

The location and climate in Colombia will allow the team to grow between five and six crops a year, while the computer-controlled greenhouses maintain the right light and humidity, while protecting from environmental factors such as heavy rain and pests.

They also grow hydroponically, using a benign substance, coconut substrate, to ensure there are no added pesticides or nutrients in the flower. The set-up means Avida can produce a broad spectrum of genetics.

“We will produce very high grade oils, isolates or crystal isolates, but we are not producing end-user products, we’re selling to companies that will produce those items.

“Typically our market will be pharmaceutical, medical and eventually food and beverage companies,” David explains.

However a large part of work will be centred around funding research and working with pharmaceutical companies to create the specific strains needed to treat certain conditions.

Avida’s chief medical officer is one of the leading trauma clinicians in Colombia, currently driving research into the use of cannabis in PTSD. “There’s all sorts of opportunities and we want to get involved in research in Colombia,” adds David.

“We will do more research and have the potential to globally integrate and put some unique products onto the market.”

Dr Inbar Maymon-Pomeranchik

It is this research which is vital in producing the safest and most effective products for patients, as Dr Inbar Maymon-Pomeranchik, scientific advisor at Avida and one of the world’s leading experts on medicinal cannabis, points out.

“Medical cannabis came about in the opposite way to other medicines, we are working backwards,” she says, on a separate Zoom call from her home in Israel where she is a scientist and Biotech Investment consultant.

“We know the cannabis plant is amazing, but we don’t know what molecules are doing what – we know that it helps, but we want to know exactly how it helps – and this is the work that is being done at the moment.

Dr Maymon-Pomeranchik continues: “Just growing cannabis isn’t enough, as a grower you need to know what to grow, how to grow it, where to grow it and how to use it afterwards – that is the most important thing to understand if we want to use it as a medicine. It has to go hand in hand with research and knowledge.”

Working daily with leaders in the sector, Dr Maymon-Pomeranchik’s insight and research will be vital to Avida moving forward as more evidence is published about the effectiveness of cannabinoids for specific health conditions.

“Everyday we know new things. There is a lot of knowledge that is coming out that is going to help companies like Avida to do the things the right way,” she says, referring to a recent study which showed a rare cannabinoid could be used to treat colon cancer.

“Cannabis is a big word and so is cancer, there are many types of cancer and 144 cannabinoids. If I know what type of cannabinoid we need, we can search for a strain that has it and grow it at Avida in order to have our own formulation that we already know works in the laboratory.”

Dr Maymon-Pomeranchik believes that this puts Avida in a strong position to take on the global cannabis market and ultimately improve the lives of patients across the world.

“There are a lot of producers but there are not enough good producers that know how to use the best strain,” she says.

“Having the best team and the connection to science and to research to conduct clinical trials puts Avida in a very good position.

“Cannabis is life-changing for people but you have to use it smartly and it has to go hand in hand with the science, because it’s evolving all the time.”

Industry

CBD in Northern Ireland – what you need to know about EFSA novel food applications

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UK FSA novel food regulations no longer apply to Northern Ireland

Northern Irish CBD companies have just ‘days’ to get European novel food applications under way if they have not already. 

Hemp Federation Ireland has urged CBD companies in Northern Ireland to submit their European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) novel food applications imminently, in order to meet the spring deadline. 

While the rest of the UK will fall under Food Standards Authority (FSA) regulations, Northern Ireland must continue to follow EU law after the end of the Brexit transition period. 

As set out in the ‘Northern Ireland Protocol’, any companies seeking authorisation for a CBD product to be placed on the market will have to follow EU and EFSA rules

This is to allow trade to continue uninterrupted between Northern and Southern Ireland.

However, the news has placed CBD companies in Northern Ireland, and those who wish to trade there, in a ‘difficult position’ with just weeks left before the deadline for novel food applications on 31 March.

Hemp Federation Ireland has been advising Northern Irish companies to proceed with the dual application process, allowing them to gain novel food status in both the UK and the EU. 

But those who were not aware of this, or have not already begun the dual application process have now been left at a ‘considerable disadvantage’, Chris Allen, of Hemp Federation Ireland, told Cannabis Health. 

While Northern Ireland is still within UK customs territory it is still subject to the provisions of EU law, including food law.

“This does put companies in a difficult position because the time frame is so tight for applications to EFSA, which I believe will close in mid-February. They really want to have those applications well underway within the next couple of days if they want to be covered by EFSA regulations.

“In reality, there is about a 10 day window for them to get the house in order and when you consider the cost of the novel food application, I can only imagine that there are a lot of companies in the UK scratching their heads now.”

All applications must include 90-day toxicity data, with the cost of this estimated to be between £300,000 and £1million.

Stephen Oliver, of London-based cannabis consultancy firm, The Canna Consultants said it is likely that many companies in Northern Ireland will have already invested in the application process, believing they could remain on the market after this date.

“There is bound to be teething problems arising as a result of Brexit, but this does seem a little bit unfair to companies who didn’t know about it,” continued Allen.

“It does seem that UK and Northern Ireland stakeholders in the industry have been placed at a considerable disadvantage.”

As things stand, CBD brands elsewhere in the UK, will no longer be able to sell their validated products in Northern Ireland after March 2021.

England-based CBD firm Honest Hemp, which sells products in Northern Ireland, said the company was hoping to find a solution. 

“It’s very sad to hear that the CBD companies based in Northern Ireland will now have their products deemed ‘unlawful’, despite going through the same extensive processes as the rest of us in the UK. So, we do feel very lucky to be able to continue operating as an England-based company, said marketing manager, Georgious Mesimeris. 

“Here at Honest Hemp, we are working hard to find a solution that will allow us to continue selling to our customer base in Northern Ireland and ensure their needs are covered. Of course, it’s hard to predict the future in a time like this, but we can keep hoping that things work out for the best eventually.”

Hemp Federation Ireland is working with Irish companies on navigating the post-brexit regulations and is happy to advise on the EFSA application process. 

“The whole industry has been constantly shifting in regulations over the past few years and it’s really not the fault of the companies themselves that they find themselves in this position now,” Allen added.

“There is poor understanding of the regulations in Ireland and that is not something that can continue long term, it will have to be resolved. The really important thing now is for people to know what their options are going forward and to understand how Brexit works from this side of the Irish Sea.”

Allen can be contacted by email on: chris@hempfederationireland.org 

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“Game changer” for the sector: First cannabis company expected to list on LSE next month

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Founder and CEO of Kanabo, Avihu Tamir

Kanabo, an Israeli medicinal cannabis company, is expecting to become the first cannabis firm to list on the London Stock Exchange.  

On the condition that all FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) requirements are met, the company is expecting the IPO (initial public offering) to take place in February this year.

The company finished a two-week virtual roadshow [a series of presentations made to investors ahead of an IPO] on Friday.

Speaking to Cannabis Health, founder and CEO, Avihu Tamir revealed that the it had an over-subscription almost 300 percent higher than its £3.2 million target.

“Everyone was telling me ‘it’s not the US, it’s not Canada, people don’t understand cannabis here. British people are more cautious, more conservative, it will be more challenging’,” Tamir said.

“Perhaps the questions that were asked were different than the questions that you would be asked when meeting US investors – maybe the knowledge base was a bit lower, but other than that interest and the understanding of the potential of the market was totally there.

“Now, what we’re doing this week is sending emails to people to say sorry, but they can only invest half of what they were planning to.”

Kanabo founder, Avihu Tamir

Kanabo, based in Tel Aviv, has developed the world’s first medicinal cannabis vapourising device, which delivers a metered dose of cannabis extract.

Smoking cannabis flower is a popular administration method for those suffering with chronic pain, however it gives a different dose on every inhale which prevents medical professionals from accepting smoking as a medicinal delivery method.

Kanabo’s VapePod, which can deliver a metered dose has already had initial sales in a pilot in the UK and Germany. They are expecting that the CE mark for the second generation medical device will be given in the first or second quarter of this year.

In Israel, approvals for the device are in the final stages. The vapourising device, which ensures the controlled application of cannabis-based medicines, is approved for use in hospitals and the company has recently embarked on a clinical trial to demonstrate bioavailability and safety.

Up until recently, regulations surrounding the public listing of cannabis firms has been unclear. However, since the FCA released a set of rules in September 2020, cannabis companies were quick to set things in motion.

MGC Pharmaceuticals, which develops and produces phytocannabinoid medications, and Emmac, one of Europe’s largest cannabis firms, are also in the race to list on the stock market in 2021.

Tamir is confident, however, that Kanabo will be the first to hit the milestone.

“It’s more than reasonable that we will be the first, but I do hope we won’t be the only ones,” Tamir said.

“Part of pushing the industry forward is having more and I hope others, like MGC and Emmac, will join very soon.

“Once they [other companies] see the listing, they will start approaching the LSE. Suddenly the UK is a relevant market.

“There is a process of usually six months for doing the listing and the prospectus, so the next peak of companies coming into the LSE will probably be in six months to eight months’ time.”

Tamir believes the IPO (initial public offering) will be a “game changer” for the cannabis industry, which is predicted to be worth billions in Europe by the end of the decade.

“Once you have the public market in a certain country being opened up, you suddenly see the shift in how the cannabis industry is being perceived by decision makers,” Tamir added.

“Once you start to see these [cannabis] companies going to a public market, everything changes and the discussion is different; suddenly […] it’s a legitimate business, it is not a drug anymore. It is a medicine.

“We all know that alcohol and tobacco are not healthy, but they’re totally legitimised because it’s a business. And that’s the change; its the shift in the mindset of decision making. If they think of it as a public company, it’s respectable, it’s something real.”

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Is France taking its first steps towards cannabis legalisation?

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French MPs have called a public consultation on cannabis

Despite being Europe’s largest consumer of cannabis, France has notoriously strict laws against the drug. Now, a citizen consultation is asking for the French public’s opinion on the drug the laws surrounding it.

Deemed a failure in legislation by many, a group of French MPs from various political parties have rallied together in a bid to shift the debate on cannabis legalisation.

On 13 January , the French government launched a public consultation giving French citizens the opportunity to give their opinion on cannabis and the government’s approach to cannabis legislation.

According to France24, more than 175,000 people have already responded; a significantly higher figure than the average 30,000 responses received from similar consultations.

Open until 28 February, the consultation asks dozens of questions, covering matters such as health risks, the consequences of illegal trafficking and security issues.

Questions include: “Do you think current policies on cannabis are effective in fighting against drug trafficking?” and “Do you think the risks associated with cannabis are the same as, more serious than or less serious than those associated with alcohol consumption?”

Caroline Janvier, an MP for the La République En Marche party and member of the parliamentary committee on cannabis, anticipates that the results of the consultation could reveal that French lawmakers are “less sympathetic to the use of recreational cannabis than the public”.

“Our primary goal is to change the terms of the debate,” Janvier told France24.

“Many politicians don’t think of it as much of an issue, but France spends €568 million per year on the fight against cannabis trafficking.”

A 2016 survey revealed that 41 per cent of French citizens aged 15 to 64 had consumed cannabis on at least one occasion. This was more than double the average in Europe (18.9 per cent).

Speaking to Cannabis Health, Stephen Murphy from the data and intelligence firm Prohibition Partners, said: “The French system is pretty interesting in that it’s coming from a public health perspective.

“What we’re seeing there is a public health debate based on the prevalence [of cannabis]; it’s not like they’re looking at it from a monetary perspective, they’re looking at it within public health and social justice.”

Speaking to France24, Riobin Reda, MP in the Les Républicains party and chair of the parliamentary committee on cannabis, said: “Cannabis use is so widespread in society; we have to respond to that at a political level.

“No one should be happy with our current policy when this repressive stance is clearly not working.”

As Macron has stated previously that legalisation of cannabis will not occur while he is in office, the MPs behind the public consultation hope it will impact the presidential campaign in 2022.

Despite legalisation of cannabis in France being some way ofF yet, Murphy believes it is “positive” that the country’s leaders are acknowledging the problems with prohibition and the public health issues that come with it.

“This is the first time that [France] has properly had public conversations, so it’s testing the waters regarding national public opinion on the potential of legalisation,” Murphy said.

“The tracking of public opinion sway as groups get involved, be it pro or anti [cannabis]. People will have a different voice when there is potential policy in place; It will be interesting to see if more or less are in favour of it.”

As an increasing number of countries begin to allow the therapeutic use of medical cannabis, many French MPs are raising concerns about France’s cannabis production line.

Reda told France24: “This [a French production line] would allow France to avoid any dependence on foreign producers, to better certify the quality of products and to provide farmers with an additional source of income.”

Murphy added: “France has quite a good national healthcare policy and healthcare system, and they have a strong domestic healthcare industry, from pharmaceuticals to nutraceuticals. They have the opportunity to be self-sufficient and to be market leaders in this.”

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