Breaking New Ground in Cannabis-Related Biopharmaceutical Research

December 3, 2018

Josh Blacher, Chief Business Officer at InMed Pharmaceuticals, recently spoke to us about the groundbreaking researching his company is doing using biosynthesis to create cannabinoid-based pharmaceutical products.

Biopharmaceutical companies are no stranger to the healing effects that cannabis offers people and research is already underway to uncover more of the plant’s therapeutic effects. Other companies are looking into alternative ways to create and study cannabinoids that don’t involve the plant, such as biosynthesis. Josh Blacher, Chief Business Officer at InMed Pharmaceuticals, recently spoke to us about the groundbreaking researching his company is doing using biosynthesis to create cannabinoid-based pharmaceutical products.

Tell us a little bit about InMed Pharmaceuticals.

Josh Blacher: InMed is a biopharmaceutical company specializing in the research, development, and commercialization of cannabinoid-based pharmaceutical products. Cannabinoids are a class of compounds found throughout nature, including the human body which make two different ones. The cannabis plant is a treasure trove of this class of compounds; it naturally produces over 90 different cannabinoids. We formulate cannabinoids into disease specific products to treat diseases with high unmet medical needs.

InMed differentiates itself from competitors in three unique ways:

  • We don’t grow marijuana. We are developing a technology, called biosynthesis, that will produce cannabinoids in a laboratory setting for use in our drug formulations. Biosynthesis is the process of producing complex molecules within living organisms or cells, in this case a bacteria called E. coli.

  • We don’t use any THC in our products. THC is the cannabinoid that produces the psychoactivity, or “high,” from marijuana. Our goal is to treat the disease without producing psychoactive side effects that may negatively impact the patient, so we avoid THC.

  • Our products are applied topically at the site of the disease. This minimizes the amount of drug required to treat the disease and minimizes the amount that may circulate in the body.

We are currently developing drugs for three disease areas: Epidermolysis Bullosa (INM-750), Glaucoma (INM-085), and localized orofacial pain (INM-405). InMed is in advanced preclinical studies to demonstrate safety and effects prior to entering into human clinical trials.

InMed is an innovative pharmaceutical company that uses the cutting-edge technologies needed to design products and deliver them to patients with the utmost safety and efficacy.

Why is the R&D of cannabinoids important to InMed Pharmaceuticals?

BlacherWe believe there are numerous understudied cannabinoids that may have therapeutic benefits for patients dealing with various severe ailments. The research that we have conducted so far has yielded positive initial results into the ability of cannabinoids to treat a multitude of different diseases including Epidermolysis Bullosa, Glaucoma, and pain, among other uses. It is imperative that this research continues so that patients have as many treatment options as possible.

Your biosynthesis platform seems very unique. Can you tell us more about that and what you’re seeking to accomplish?

Blacher: We are developing a proprietary, robust, high-yield, microbial-based biosynthesis process for individually manufacturing any of the 90+ cannabinoids. The compounds that result from our process are bio-identical to the naturally occurring cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. Our process is designed to offer superior ease, control, and quality of manufacturing when compared to alternative methods.

Microorganisms, such as bacteria, do not naturally produce cannabinoids. However, utilizing genomic engineering to modify their metabolism, InMed has systematically introduced the cannabis plant’s enzymatic pathways into bacteria, and has developed what it believes to be the first-of-its-kind production of downstream cannabinoids in these hosts.

Briefly, InMed has identified the specific gene sequences from the cannabis plant that encode the instructions to make specific enzymes for cannabinoids and subsequently transplanted these genes into the bacterium E. coli. This intervention converts the bacterium into a manufacturing engine that produces large quantities of the target cannabinoid on demand. This development provides an opportunity for industrial-scale manufacturing of naturally occurring cannabinoids, and we believe that it is a significant improvement over existing manufacturing platforms such as direct extraction from cannabis plants.

Direct extraction of minor cannabinoids is quite cumbersome, time-consuming, and low yielding for any but a few major cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. The use of microorganisms for manufacturing cannabinoids eliminates the process of planting, growing, harvesting, extracting, and purifying. There are also economic and environmental savings such as substantially reduced resource requirements (water, electricity, manpower). Furthermore, the growing process has several hard-to-remove impurities (for example, pesticides), potentially presenting significant safety issues. As with all crops, yield fluctuations present an additional risk. Only a few of the 90+ cannabinoids can be extracted from the plant in sufficient quantities to make that process economically viable.

Researching these cannabinoids will lead to the creation of new biosynthetic pathways, which will lead to the commercial scale production of minor cannabinoids. That, in turn, will open up investigations for therapeutic uses against other diseases which can be used by InMed as well as collaborating companies and partners.

InMed has had several press releases recently, including a research agreement with the National Research Council of Canada for the biofermentation development and scale-up processes for cannabinoid biosynthesis in E.coli (1). Can you tell us about this agreement and the work related to it? Will any of this research be applicable to other countries?

BlacherThe recent research agreement with the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada for the biofermentation development and scale-up processes for cannabinoid biosynthesis in E. Coli will help InMed define specific process parameters to improve fermentation scale and product yield needed to maximize the commercial potential of proprietary E.coli-based cannabinoid biosynthesis systems. E. coli is uniquely suited to produce these molecules; it outperforms traditional systems such as yeast and is able to produce these molecules in high volumes.

This work is the natural progression of several years' experience in designing cannabinoid-specific gene vectors at the University of British Columbia and is the next step in reaching our goal of establishing a leadership position in the field of cannabinoid biosynthesis. The research we conduct with the NRC will enable our plans to be a global leader in the R&D and commercialization of cannabinoid-based prescription medicines.

Do you anticipate more research agreements with any other parties?

BlacherInMed’s R&D collaborations are global in scale. We engage research organizations in North America, Europe, and Israel. We plan to continue to identify the best partners, wherever they are located, to optimally develop our technologies.

Where do you think InMed is going to be in one year?

BlacherWe’re hoping to make two exceptional accomplishments: 

  • to bring our biosynthesis technology to an advanced stage that will enable commercial scale production of cannabinoids; and 

  • transition our lead drug candidates – INM-750 for Epidermolysis Bullosa –into human clinical trials.

References:

  1. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/inmed-pharmaceuticals-signs-agreement-with-the-national-research-council-of-canada-for-cannabinoid-biofermentation-process-development-and-scale-up-300723550.html