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.”
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.”
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