The slow but steady march of pharmaceutical players into the cannabis industry has spurned a new period of technological innovation, bringing new techniques and technologies to every part of the cannabis value chain.
In order to maximise the opportunity and mitigate risk, a new emphasis has been placed on research and development (R&D) of new upstream, midstream and downstream targeted technologies.
According to Prohibition Partners’ Pharmaceutical Cannabis Report: 3rd Edition, written in collaboration with Cannabscientia SA, new strides are being made in the development of technologies focused on producing uniform, cost-effective high yields of high quality, alongside the extraction methods and delivery formats.
In the pharmaceutical cannabis industry, upstream technologies focus mainly on technologies used for the genetic engineering of cannabis strains, seed and plant protection, and the cultivation process.
This agricultural technology (agritech) industry, expected to be worth $46.4bn by 2030, covers a significant number of industries, but the ‘immense growth in innovation and technology’ is being adopted by the cannabis industry in a number of key areas.
First among these areas is genetic modification, which has seen ‘significant development’ in recent years by those in the cannabis industry dedicated to ‘supplying pharmaceutical cannabis’, maximising production efficiency and reducing labour costs.
One progression in this sector is the production of ‘F1 hybrid seeds’. While these seeds, which represent the first generation of a new variety of seeds due to breeding two different strains, are nothing new to the agricultural industry, they have only made their way into cannabis over the past few years.
In 2022, a study conducted by Wageningen University and Research (WUR) in the Netherlands found that F1 hybrid seeds from F1 SeedTech were able to produce stable, uniform results that can be 15% more profitable than cloning due to less need for staff, time and space costs associated with the cloning process.
Automation and robotics are also having a significant impact on staffing costs within the agritech industry, and now new systems are being developed for the cannabis industry.
US-based cannabis agritech company Bloom Automation has developed 3D vision cameras allowing cultivators to monitor the entire plant in real time, using a proprietary algorithm to provide cultivators with real-time data on the plants’ health, growth cycle stage and flower quality.
The company has also developed a robotic trimming system, which is capable of distinguishing flowers from leaves with 97% accuracy. This is not only a significantly higher level of accuracy than its human counterpart, but also works twice as fast.
These technologies focus mainly on the extraction, purification, separation and preservation of the cannabis plants, areas which have historically been slow, expensive and wasteful.
This area has been a particular focus for patents for many companies aiming to pull ahead in the pharmaceutical cannabis market, leading to ‘significant growth in the extraction sector’.
One such development is vapour static extraction, patented technology developed by Maratek and Boulder Creek Technologies.
This process vaporises cannabis biomass, then shock cools it into a fog, removing water-soluble liquids and lipids and thereby returning the vapour into a cannabinoid-rich crude oil distillate.
Unlike ethanol and CO2 extraction, this method requires no solvents, less energy and less space, and does not produce hazardous waste, making it both sustainable and cost-efficient.
Notable developments are also taking place in the way cannabis-based products are composed, formulated and delivered to treat specific medical conditions.
With many of these products and innovations undergoing clinical trials in order to be patented, there are major opportunities in this area for pharmaceutical cannabis companies to develop more efficient delivery methods, more bio-available formulations and more uniform doses.
Patients and prescribers of cannabis medicines tend to favour oral administration, as it has fewer side effects than inhalation, but for many conditions, such as acute pain, the absorption rate of these products is often too low to be effective.
Thus, a number of new delivery formats are currently being trialled by the industry, including transdermal formulations which are administered through the skin to treat the tissue below.
Due to the high bioavailability and non-invasive nature of these formats, companies such as Zynerba Pharmaceuticals have invested heavily into this space, currently holding 18 patents for transdermal pharmaceutical cannabis products, aiming to treat conditions such as osteoarthritis and epilepsy.
New technologies have also seen significant progress in pharmaceutical cannabis-based formulations over the last several years, much of which is attributed to the progress of nanoparticle technology.
Cannabinoids are inherently difficult for the body to absorb, so the emergence of using ‘nanocarriers’ for targeted cannabis formulations provides enhanced drug delivery, solubilisation, increased bioavailability and encapsulation efficiency, also allowing for the timed release of cannabinoid APIs.
The Pharmaceutical Cannabis Report: 3rd Edition is now available to purchase via the Prohibition Partners website. Alongside the report, additional data and insight packages are available, including:
- Global Clinical Trials Database: A comprehensive list of 440 clinical trials involving cannabis and cannabinoids taking place since 2010.
Patent Portfolio: A comprehensive review of the patent portfolios of Jazz Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (split into those held by GW Research Ltd., and those held by GW Pharmaceuticals Ltd.), and of six other leading companies involved in patenting activity for the medical application of cannabis and cannabinoids