AFTER announcing a new joint venture with Solumedics AG last week, allowing it to import and sell medical cannabis in Switzerland for the first time, we spoke to Astrasana‘s CEO Yves Antoniazzi about his plans for the next year, and why now is the ‘perfect’ time to expand into the cannabis industry.
How did you get into the cannabis industry?
Until 2017 I worked for seven years as a consultant in finance and accounting for a corporate company, but eventually got tired of it.
At that time Switzerland had increased the legal THC limit to 1%, and like many others I teamed up with a couple of friends and invested my whole savings into indoor grow facilities since there were no licences or standards required at all.
By the end of the year the prices for flowers dropped within three months from CHF4000 (£3550) down to CHF500 (£443) per kilo so you can guess how the business went.
After getting in touch with other CBD companies I quickly learned that there was so much more to the cannabis industry than just growing flowers. I decided to leave the company I was working at and started work as a Sales Manager for a large cannabis company where I was responsible for setting up its European sales and distribution infrastructure.
Then, this summer, after working in the cannabis industry for almost six years, I was encouraged by my network to set something up on my own, so that’s what I did.
Having worked in some of the largest cannabis corporations in Europe, I had seen the industry from so many different angles. I had been through several market crises, price drops but also massive booms, and I was able to learn from both the good and bad sides within this industry.
So I gathered my best contacts from throughout the network that I saw as indispensable for creating a successful international cannabis organisation, and either took them on board or closed a contract agreement with them.
One of my main assets is also my trusted client base, which have stayed with me during my whole career and are more friends than they are clients. They have allowed me to continue making revenues throughout my various roles in the cannabis industry.
Can you walk us through Astrasana’s operations?
From my previous experience I learned to diversify operations within a company as much as possible, so now at Astrasana we really serve the whole value chain.
In Switzerland we have a state of the art indoor flower production facility, but we also extract and manufacture CBD and minor cannabinoids.
Around 80% of our products are sold in Europe through our entity in the Czech Republic, while the other 20% is sold in the burgeoning Japanese market, where we also have our own operation.
We have just finished establishing the German entity of Astrasana. Some of my main clients are based in Germany, and obviously we also don’t want to miss out the upcoming opportunity with legalisation.
Do you have plans to enter the medical and recreational markets too?
Until the Swiss legislation changed in August this year, I couldn’t see a big enough market in pharmaceutical or medical cannabis which was able to compete with the volume of the wellness market of CBD.
Now the legislation has been liberalised, we are able to sell prescribed medical cannabis within pharmacies.
This led to our recently announced joint venture with pharmaceutical company Solumedics, which has been granted all the licences required to import and sell medical cannabis in Switzerland. Together with my board members we are setting up a network of doctors, clinics and pharmacies aimed at helping patients access cannabis-based medicines.
Are you looking to get your own licences granted?
We are about to implement the GACP standard in our indoor facilities in Switzerland, and expect to be able to cultivate THC by the beginning of next year, since the cultivation only licence is relatively simple to get.
Then, we will hand the product over to a third-party, one of my close friends with a EU-GMP certified facility, to do the post-harvest process in order to have an approved API.
Astrasana has a clear focus and core business but we also aim to use our extensive network and partner up with trusted companies and suppliers.
What can we look forward to from Astrasana in the coming year?
As mentioned before I have kept my client base and also brought over the best sales talents to Astrasana, so I’m confident we can achieve a bigger market share in the European CBD market.
Next year I also expect our Japanese business to grow significantly, since there is an essential piece of legislative change expected. It’s getting pretty interesting over there.
In case you didn’t know, Japan is the only country worldwide where CBD is actually considered an official food product without needing to pass any Novel Foods regulations.
Obviously I also expect the medical cannabis market in Switzerland to take off and I’m convinced we’ll get a good market share in my home country.
Meanwhile, I’m extremely excited about an upcoming research project with one of the most renowned universities in Europe we will be working on soon. I can’t say too much but the project will focus on conflicts and passages of biomedicine and cannabis based medicine.
Can you walk me through your newly announced deal with Solumedics AG?
We will have our first shipment of EU-GMP certified medical cananbis arriving from abroad in the next couple of weeks, and hope we can get them onto pharmacy shelves by the end of the year.
Official Government figures estimate there are around 100,000 potential patients in Switzerland. I think in cannabis business it’s all about being the first in line and securing as many clients as possible.
I’m extremely excited because it’s finally a new business unit opening up in the industry. I think all Swiss companies were waiting for this opportunity.
The Swiss recreational trials require BIO-approved outdoor growing, which is not really our core business. What some people might not know is Switzerland could well become the next European country after Germany to legalise recreational cannabis.
Cannabis companies have had a tough year, what drives you to continue to invest in your business right now?
Back in 2018, we were producing and selling CBD isolates for €12,000 a kilo, now it is a fraction of this price.
2021 and 2022 have not been easy for anyone, but the much needed consolidation of hundreds of cannabis companies down to a couple of dozen, which everyone has been waiting for, is about to end.
We have seen a significant increase in price and general demand over the last couple of months and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon.
The focus for us now is to support our CBD market revenues with medical cannabis until full legalisation happens across Europe.
I’m tempted to say I chose the perfect time to expand into the industry.