Israelis and Canadians plan partnership in medicinal marijuana

PlantExt needs Netanyahu to allow export of product

COLLECTING CUTTINGS from cannabis plants at Hexo Corp’s facilities in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, on September 26 (photo credit: REUTERS)
COLLECTING CUTTINGS from cannabis plants at Hexo Corp’s facilities in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, on September 26
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With the date for Canada’s landmark legalization of the recreational use of marijuana nearing, international interest in the drug is soaring; not only among longtime cannabis users from Halifax to Vancouver, but in society’s civic sectors, ranging from medical to economic; investment to marketing; law enforcement to regulatory.
Indeed, the attention generated by the run-up to legalization of recreational marijuana that took place on October 17 has catalyzed the myriad of news stories reporting on pot’s cultural, health and economic implications – and perhaps the most prolific storyline: the budding industry already worth billions of dollars and growing rapidly.
As the new industry takes hold, new alliances, partnerships and mergers are already on the screen. Canada, unsurprisingly, has emerged as a key player in what is seen as a global industry and market, being a – if not the – Western nation with the most experience in “general cannabis issues.” By comparison, despite its size and presumed ability to dominate the market, the United States is exerting negative energy on the developing cannabis industry.
Due to the inconsistency of laws among its 50 states, the US is seen as a minefield rather than a fertile growing field by would-be investors. Once an industry is seen as being problematic to banks and other financial institutions, the funding necessary for growth fails to materialize. As Vijay Sindal, managing director of the Boston Consulting Group told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, “[the States] are all over the place in terms of the degree to which [cannabis] is or is not permitted, so banks that have business dealings in these markets are being careful.”
While some joke that what is called a “veteran” in the medicinal cannabis industry has at best no more than a few years under his or her belt, during that time certain peculiarities have already proven to be axiomatic. First and foremost is the potential value of the core product, as evidenced by the vast sums being tendered to those deemed capable of providing key services tied to marketing product. Ironically, the shortage of product at this early stage actually portents the vast expectations for revenue.
But regarding the necessary partner/specialist in the science of cannabis, notwithstanding a shorter history with the drug, Israel so far stands out as the “cannabis lab” – the research and development center for the industry.
It is no surprise, then, that “Canada the business hub” and “Israel the R&D center” would represent the ideal pairings for partnerships.
 In 2015, PlantExt created a case in point when Dr. Oded Sagee expanded upon research being conducted by Israel’s Department of Agriculture and the Volcani Center that created cannabis-based medicinal solutions for patients suffering from the pain of Crohn’s disease and colitis, two painful manifestations of inflammatory bowel diseases. He spearheaded a joint venture that brought Canadian investment together with Israeli science. In 2017, the company was incorporated as PlantExt, headed by CEO Doug Sommerville who previously led the generic drug giant Teva in the Canadian market and headed the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association.
Dr. Tahal Altman, a physician on the PlantExt team, explained to The Media Line that, “PlantExt is identifying in this whole plant specific compositions that actually have shown data of reduction of inflammation, but taking it to a step where we can look at it in a more scientific way – a way that physicians are used to looking at data and trying to bring products that will be based on clinical evidence.”
The goal is simple: creating an alternative to dangerous drugs by studying how side-effect-free cannabis works. Altman says that so far, it’s just the “tip of the iceberg.” There exists a “huge number” of indications and patients who will benefit from [cannabis] treatments.”
Support for Dr. Altman’s thesis comes from Florida where, as elsewhere, opioids are frequently being used to address chronic pain, one result being the growing of the heinous epidemic of addiction to the drug. Officials in the state report that large numbers of patients with serious conditions are opting for medicinal marijuana over opioids.
While interest in recreational marijuana has captured the headlines, the growth of the medicinal cannabis industry remains the focus of investors – even in Canada. Sommerville told The Media Line that while “the medical side in Canada goes back to early 2000 when [cannabis] was first approved for medical use… for companies like PlantExt, the medical mission remains above interest in the newly-developing recreational market.”
The PlantExt team recently explained to The Media Line its plans to navigate the nascent cannabis industry. Participating were CEO Doug Sommerville; president Dr. Oded Sagee; director of strategic development Amir Gissin; and general director Dr. Tahal Altman.
What do you say to potential users of medicinal marijuana who are afraid of side effects or addiction?
Sommerville: After many years of use, there is no known side effect we are aware of from cannabis usage. It’s a natural, plant-based product, so the benefits are tremendous [compared] with existing drugs that are very hard on the body and have a lot of side effects. You can go back thousands of years and you will see references for cannabis as a treatment for different diseases.
How can you treat a patient who has multiple ailments – an inflammatory bowel disease and cancer, for instance – that respond to cannabis?
Sommerville: The uniqueness of PlantExt is that we combine the knowledge about the plant, the plant physiologist, and the pharmaceutical knowledge to find the right plants, the right varieties. We combine the understanding of the plant and the understanding of the medical need, trying to optimize the whole chain from the DNA of the plant to a solution in the pharmacy.
How would you rank the countries that have legalized marijuana?
Sommerville: As of today, 30 states in the US have legalized medicinal marijuana, as have 35 nations. The US, just on scope and size of the medicinal marijuana market place in those 30 states, is certainly a very large market if not the biggest market in the world right now for medicinal cannabis. Canada comes very close because of the well-developed market. Israel now has 24,000 patients, many of whom used smoke as the way to get the product but the new regulation, the new move in Israel, will have new patients looking at other forms, mainly oils, capsules and gels, that can give them a more pharmaceutical dosage for them that doctors and patients are used to.
What needs to be done to determine that the product is ready for market?
Altman: What we need, I think, is more standardized clinical trials and randomly controlled studies. We would like to develop for a specific target population a more standardized approach looking at a specific composition with specific compounds and develop evidence based on their use as all drugs are. The many years of experience in Israel and regulations allow us to do studies that are easier since you don’t have to run through all the regulatory hurdles that you have with regular pharmaceuticals. I think this is a very good opportunity to bring products to market much faster for patients.
Is it more about the relief from specific pain or the quality of life?
Sommerville: I would say at the end of the day it’s a bit of both, but quality of life is always important and relief from pain is a major enhancement of quality of life. We are looking at more than just pain. Cannabis treats more than just inflammation and pain.
How is the inability of exporting product from Israel impacting the company’s growth?
Gissin: It’s a political matter. Israel is losing a significant economic opportunity. All parties, all stakeholders, not just growers, but the pharmaceutical industry and export officials see the great, even unfair advantage that Israel has in this industry. So for Israel to be the leader, not just in research but also in export and production of a new direction for the cannabis industry, we are in the best position in the world. So why not go forward and let Israel enjoy that and let the Israeli economy enjoy that and let the world enjoy that? The fact that it didn’t happen until now is a political matter. It is inevitable that at the end of the day there will be export of product. As Dr. Sagee said, not the plant itself but medical products that are made out of cannabis will be developed and exported to the world.