Is Synthetic CBD the Future of Cannabis Pharma?
Synthetic CBD may help pharmaceutical companies develop and commercialize CBD-based drugs at a lowered cost and with minimized regulatory hassle.
Cannabidiol (CBD), one of the many cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, is known to possess medicinal and therapeutic properties without giving patients the high experienced with psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The US Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) June 2018 approval of GW Pharmaceuticals’ (NASAQ:GWPH) CBD-based epilepsy treatment Epidiolex — the first cannabis-derived drug to be cleared by the FDA — was a big win for the medical cannabis industry. In October 2018, the US Drug Enforcement Agency reclassified the drug as a Schedule V drug, the least restrictive scheduling of controlled substances.
What is synthetic CBD?
Synthetic or chemically synthesized CBD is an Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) produced in the form of a free-flowing, ultra-pure crystalline powder and is chemically identical at a molecular level to natural plant-derived CBD. CBD has a relatively simple molecular structure, making it easy to produce through organic chemistry in a pharmaceutical setting. The manufacturing of chemically synthesized CBD occurs in regulatory-approved API facilities much like other pharmaceutical drugs and has a repeatability factor that allows for the development of consistent batches.
Companies developing synthetic CBD pharmaceuticals
While Epidiolex may have been the first cannabis-plant-derived medical product to garner FDA approval, it was not the first cannabinoid-based product to do so. Back in 1985, the agency approved Marinol, a synthetic THC-containing compound as an anti-nausea drug for chemotherapy patients. Johnson Matthey (LSE:JMAT), which produces APIs for the pharma industry, would later develop a generic form of the drug.
The British multinational firm has now developed a new chemically synthesized CBD product, although production remains limited. “As a leader in API development, we are delighted to add the high-value synthesis of cannabidiol to our expanding portfolio of Pharma solutions,” said Paul Evans, VP Generic Products and Solutions at Johnson Matthey. “This will enable companies to easily explore the medicinal properties of cannabinoids, and combined with our development and manufacturing capabilities, deliver novel treatments and medicines to patients.”
For now, the only company producing synthetic CBD on a commercial scale is Delaware-based Noramco Inc., one of the world’s largest FDA-certified and cGMP manufacturers of controlled drug substances. The company has operations around the world and leads the way in the manufacture and supply of controlled drug substance APIs, including select cannabinoids, which the company began producing in March of 2017.
Noramco has entered into an exclusive supply agreement with Cardiol Therapeutics (TSX:CRDL), a biotechnology company which is developing proprietary nanoformulations of CBD-based drugs, including a treatment for diastolic heart failure, with clinical trials planned for H2 2019. With six million people affected in Canada and the US, chronic heart failure is a leading cause of death and hospitalization in North America. Under the exclusive supply agreement, Cardiol gains access to pharmaceutically-manufactured, ultra-pure CBD that it will use to leverage CBD market demand in Canada.
In addition to its supply agreement with Noramco, Cardiol has also established an exclusive manufacturing arrangement with Toronto-based Dalton Pharma Services for supplying pharmaceutical cannabidiol at greater than 99.5 percent purity and THC-free. Dalton is a Health Canada approved, FDA registered and cGMP manufacturer of over 200 APIs, including pharmaceutical cannabinoids, and has the capability to scale its operations commercially when the demand picture makes sense.
This manufacturing agreement will serve Cardiol’s research programs and, more importantly, will support the commercial introduction of CBD products into the Canadian market.
Cardiol will soon be launching its ultra-pure pharmaceutical CBD oil into the Canadian $1.2 billion medical cannabinoid market, a move the company hopes will generate significant revenue in the short term.
Future of chemically synthesized CBD
According to Michael McCoy, Executive Editor of Chemical & Engineering News, “firms like Noramco and [Johnson Matthey] maintain that GW [Pharmaceuticals] will prove to be an exception in the cannabinoid world.” Speaking at the CPhI Worldwide pharmaceutical chemical trade show in October 2018, McCoy reported that Noramco’s CEO, James Mish, told the audience he sees the market for CBD splitting into two with plant-derived CBD and THC serving the recreational and nutraceutical market, and synthetic CBD and THC dominating the pharmaceutical market.
Mish put forward GW Pharmaceuticals’ success with the plant-based Epidiolex as a one-off and not something the market will see repeated now that commercial supplies of synthetic CBD are becoming available. “In order to get the quality needed by regulatory bodies, the only way to do that is synthetically,” he said.
The strong demand for pharmaceutical-grade CBD products has incentivized drug companies to develop new CBD-based products for a variety of different ailments. Synthetic CBD is chemically identical to plant-based CBD and has the potential to provide pharmaceutical companies like Cardiol Therapeutics and other emerging players with a low cost, regulatory-friendly approach to bringing commercially produced CBD pharmaceuticals to market.
Cautionary statement regarding forward-looking information:
This document contains “forward-looking information” within the meaning of applicable Canadian securities laws (“Forward-looking Information”). All statements, other than statements of historical fact, that address activities, events or developments that Cardiol believes, expects or anticipates will, may, could or might occur in the future are Forward-looking Information. Forward-looking Information is frequently identified by the use of words such as “plans”, “expects”, “projects”, “intends”, “believes”, “anticipates”, “forecasts”, and other similar words and phrases, including variations (and negative variations) of such words and phrases, or may be identified by statements to the effect that certain actions, events or conditions “may”, “could”, “should”, “would”, or “will” be taken, occur or be achieved. Forward-looking Information used herein include, but is not limited to, statements with respect to: future events; the future performance or the intended business strategy of Cardiol; the potential for Cardiol’s licensed drug encapsulation and delivery technologies to enhance the bioavailability of pharmaceuticals; management’s expectations regarding estimated future pharmaceutical research and development opportunities, collaborations and prospects; the success and proposed timing of Cardiol’s product development activities, including, but not limited to, the proposed timeline of Cardiol’s product candidate pipeline for commercial introduction; the ability of Cardiol to develop its product candidates; Cardiol’s plans to research, discover, evaluate and develop additional products; Cardiol’s proposed future collaborations to advance Cardiol’s lead nanoformulations into clinical development; and the potential for Cardiol’s cannabinoid-based products to provide sources of future revenue in the short term. Forward-looking Information contained herein reflects the current expectations or beliefs of Cardiol based on information currently available to it and is subject to a variety of known and unknown risks and uncertainties and other factors that could cause the actual events or results to differ materially from any future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by the Forward-looking Information. These risks and uncertainties and other factors include, but are not limited to, the fact that the success of Cardiol’s product candidates are dependent upon or subject to, as the case may be: years of clinical development efforts; the results of clinical testing and trial activities of Cardiol’s products; Cardiol’s ability to obtain regulatory approval and market acceptance of its products; Cardiol’s ability to raise capital and the availability of future financing; Cardiol’s lack of operating history; unforeseeable deficiencies in the development of Cardiol’s product candidates; uncertainties relating to the availability and costs of financing needed in the future for Cardiol’s research and development initiatives; Cardiol’s ability to manage its research, development, growth and operating expenses; the potential failure of clinical trials to demonstrate acceptable levels of safety and efficacy of Cardiol’s product candidates; Cardiol’s ability to retain key management and other personnel; risks related to fluctuations in medicinal cannabinoid markets in Canada and worldwide; uncertainties regarding Cardiol’s ongoing collaborative and manufacturing partnerships; uncertainties regarding results of researching and developing products for human use; Cardiol competes in a highly competitive and evolving industry; Cardiol’s ability to obtain and maintain current and future intellectual property protection; and other risks and uncertainties and factors. These risks, uncertainties and other factors should be considered carefully, and investors should not place undue reliance on the Forward-looking Information. Any Forward-looking Information speaks only as of the date on which it is made and, except as may be required by applicable securities laws, Cardiol disclaims any intent or obligation to update or revise such Forward-looking Information, whether as a result of new information, future events or results or otherwise. Although Cardiol believes that the expectations reflected in the Forward-looking Information are reasonable, they do involve the aforesaid and other risks and uncertainties and are not (and should not be considered to be) guarantees of future performance.