Marijuana made in the laboratory arrives.
In an effort to transform the pharmaceutical and marijuana industries, scientists at the University of California at Berkeley announced Wednesday that they have created cannabis compounds for the first time in a laboratory, instead of harvesting them from a plant.
If the technique can evolve, it could pave the way for faster and more efficient manufacturing of the therapeutic components of marijuana, for a fraction of the cost of traditional methods.
Using an increasingly popular approach called synthetic biology, researchers have genetically modified yeast to produce a key component of marijuana, the precursor of two of the plant's best-known compounds: THC and CBD.
Using these precursors, they made the compounds themselves – no farms or fields required.
While THC is the high-dose portion of marijuana, CBD has an emerging reputation as a therapeutic and is the active ingredient in the first federally approved marijuana drug.
Due to the health and welfare practices to which the CBD is linked, the compound market could reach US $ 16 billion by 2025, an increase of about US $ 1 billion today. # 39; hui.
Marijuana plants contain a host of other little known compounds that scientists suspect to also have therapeutic properties. But it was too difficult to produce them in sufficient quantity to study them.
This could now be set to change.
In an article published in the journal Nature, Berkeley researchers have explained how the two types of marijuana compounds – the best known as THC and the lesser known as THCV – could be made in the laboratory.
This will likely have serious consequences for startups and pharmaceutical companies wishing to create new marijuana drugs, ranging from epilepsy to pain and arthritis.
Several companies are working on similar efforts. Wall Street also noticed, claiming that lab marijuana was part of a growing list of factors contributing to accelerating the entry of cannabis in the pharmaceutical and consumer welfare industries.
"There could be a whole series of new products that could come out of it," Business Insider Jay Keasling, a bioengineer in UC Berkeley, told Business Insider.
Before they could make marijuana compounds without a field or greenhouse, Keasling and his team had to go out and find the ingredients they needed to work in the lab – a real grail for the cannabis industry.
Laboratory marijuana can have many advantages over traditionally grown marijuana, such as lower cost and reduced environmental footprint.
Several companies want to be the first to prove that this method, also called biosynthesis, works, including Ginkgo Bioworks, a synthetic biology startup in Boston; Intrexon, a Maryland biotechnology; and Hyasynth Bio, a Canadian startup.
Wall Street is eager to see this happen too.
"Compared to chemical methods, biosynthetic methods are more cost effective, scalable and environmentally friendly," analysts said the Cowen investment company in a note published this week.
Keasling and his team have spent years figuring out how to do it.
They discovered a clue in the patent literature regarding a way to modify yeast genes using marijuana DNA, which would make it a key precursor to CBD and THC.
The process of modifying the DNA of a basic organism such as yeast or E. coli to convince him to produce another product is called synthetic biology. In recent years, investors have poured money into companies in the region.
In simple terms, synthetic biology is about harnessing the power of cells to make products such as drugs, biodegradable building materials and less toxic sweeteners for food.
Keasling and his team therefore took all the basic ingredients identified by previous researchers – components of yeast DNA and cannabis DNA – and tried to make the marijuana compounds in a lab. Several attempts failed.
"We tried all the stuff we had," said Keasling. "We just could not make it work."
So they took another shot at that. After several years of work exploring hundreds of marijuana genes, they were able to identify their target: an enzyme called CsPT4. This allowed them to make the ingredients they needed to make compounds like CBD and THC.
"This is a crucial step in the path that nobody had until now," said Keasling.
The next step for Keasling is taking the next step. To do this, he has to prove by great experiments that his technique works and at a lower cost than traditional manufacturing.
This could be of major interest to pharmaceutical companies such as GW Pharma, which recently became the first company to offer a US-approved marijuana drug. (This medicine, called Epidiolex, is designed to treat rare forms of epileptics using high concentrations of CBD.)
It may also be of interest to many startups who, in recent years, have committed to transforming marijuana compounds such as CBD into federally approved drugs for diseases such as Crohn's disease and multiple sclerosis.
Keasling has already licensed the technology described in the study to a start-up founded in 2015, Demetrix. He said the group would be open to working with a range of established companies from the pharmaceutical industry or the food industry.
Jeff Ubersax, CEO of Demetrix, told Business Insider that the startup had raised $ 11 million in venture capital, led by Horizon Ventures, a Hong Kong-based venture capital firm.
Horizon also supported Impossible Foods, the company behind a herbal burger, and Siri, the developer of the virtual assistant of Apple.
Known as a start-up, Keasling has founded several companies and is the advisor for four. In 2003, he helped found Amyris, now a skin care company, and in 2010, he founded Lygos, a startup that wants to use microbes for renewable energy purposes. He is no longer involved with Amyris but remains a Lygos advisor.
With Demetrix, Keasling and Ubersax focus on two goals, they told Business Insider.
They want to create lab-made versions of the well-known cannabis compounds.
They also want to make a handful of little studied marijuana compounds, ingredients that, according to Keasling, are likely to have therapeutic properties. THCV, for example, may have a stimulating potential for appetite.
Other startups have similar goals. Ginkgo Bioworks recently signed a US $ 122 million contract with Canadian marijuana producer Cronos to manufacture well-known cannabis compounds and lesser-known ingredients, using the same principles of synthetic biology.
Keasling said that he thought he could make marijuana compounds for a fraction of the cost of traditional cannabis production because his method would not require greenhouse building materials, large amounts of earth or water. water, nor manual labor.
"From a scientific point of view, with all the rare cannabinoids we can produce, I think it will be really cool," Keasling said.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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