Cultivating cannabis for pharmaceuticals: an inside view

Botanical Holdings was founded in early 2020 with a focus on investing within the legal cannabis sector. There is now a substantial body of evidence to support the effectiveness of cannabis-based medicines in treating a range of conditions from epilepsy to chronic pain. More recently, attention has also turned to the potential of certain psychedelic drugs to treat symptoms of chronic mental illnesses. DDW’s Megan Thomas speaks with the company’s founder, Carl Esprey, about the work Botanical Holdings is doing.

MT: Botanical Holdings is a new company cultivating cannabis for pharmaceutical research. How is the company doing this?

CE: With medicinal cannabis cultivation and processing facilities in Lesotho and under construction in Portugal, Botanical Holdings is in the vanguard of the fast-growing, legalised medicinal cannabis industry.

To cultivate and process pharmaceutical grade cannabis, which can, for example, be used for pharmaceutical research and products when approved, Botanical Holdings is required to comply with increasing regulatory frameworks and best practice standards. For this reason, Botanical Holdings initiated the construction of its own new, bespoke cultivation & processing facilities which are designed to ensure achievement of the requisite Good Agricultural and Collective Practices (GACP) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) standards.

At its own facilities, Botanical Holdings will be able to cultivate, process, transform and analyse a full range of cannabis compounds and products including dry flower, extracts, oils and isolates; Botanical Holdings will be able to extract the purest forms of a range of cannabinoids and conduct analysis at its own GMP laboratory facilities.

Botanical Holdings will use the most advanced and effective technologies to ensure that the highest cultivation yields are achieved in a sustainable manner under a green environment, and the final quality of the product is preserved at all times; operational risks will be mitigated by achieving EU-GACP and EU-GMP standards.

MT: What is currently standing in the way of the research cultivated by Botanical Holdings and cannabis-based drugs being on the market? What are the next steps?

CE: Botanical Holdings is in the process of establishing working relationships with a number of university partners. Ideally this group will include at least one partner based in Portugal. It is intended that research professionals from Botanical Holdings’ university partners, in collaboration with Botanical Holdings´ management and technical teams, will initiate and oversee research programmes (including writing intellectual property documents, technical reports and journal manuscripts) to help Botanical Holdings reach long-term goals for diversifying its product line.

Research programmes will include R&D into agri-tech/growing conditions, process development and research in relation to the medical efficacy and deployment of various cannabinoids.

We hope that these relationships will lead to scientific developments in the context of new products and services as well as more broadly in terms of increasing efficacy and clinical evidence of cannabinoids for medicinal purposes.

The medicinal cannabis industry has in the past been slow to rise to the challenge of providing clinical data. However, there is evidence of a shift towards both companies and academic research institutions engaging in and supporting the development of clinical data as a greater priority, in line with the relaxations of legal restrictions applicable to the industry, around the world.

MT: What are the opportunities faced by cannabis-based drug developers in bringing products to market?

CE: A vast range of opportunities are now opening up to cannabis-based drug developers. This is as a result of the number of new cannabinoids being discovered growing, a broadening in the understanding of their properties and applications and an increase in consumer interest in cannabis-based products as alternatives to traditional therapies.

By being the first in the sector to bring products to market, drug developers could be in a forefront and in the privileged position to establish themselves as industry leaders.

The ability for therapy developers to be closely involved with cultivators from the start of the plant’s cultivation provides the opportunity to customise APIs/products from the initial part of the production chain. This may offer significant opportunities in relation to creation of full spectrum oils or extracts containing specific ratios of molecules, designed as therapies for specific medical conditions.

Cultivators and producers will also have the opportunity (with improvements in the agri-tech field) to develop cultivar catalogues tailored for medical use. This can be important in relation to improving stability, alongside bespoke cannabinoid and terpene profiles.

MT: There is now a substantial body of evidence to support the effectiveness of cannabis-based medicines in treating a range of conditions from epilepsy to chronic pain. What will developments in this field mean for the drug discovery sector at large?

CE: There is now a clear and growing interest in research into cannabis and psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, PTSD, chronic pain, fear & phobias and other medical conditions such as Alzheimer´s diseases, cancer, spasticity or pain.

Given the potential for broad medicinal applications of the cannabis plant (due to the existence of more than 400 compounds within the plant) this may change the way we medicate a considerable number of conditions over the next 5-10 years, as cannabinoids offer alternative options for treatment, possibly in combination with other drugs, thereby creating new therapeutic regimes.

Knowledge of “minor” cannabinoids (i.e. cannabinoids other than THC and CBD) is also on the rise. This has already triggered the further interest of the scientific community. As such we may expect to see cannabis-based drugs other than CBD and THC-based products being approved by national health agencies in the coming years. We should expect to see more data released about “minor” cannabinoids as new evidence is being generated on an ongoing basis through trials and research.

Drug design and development to improve the desired pharmacological properties and effects will become a significant sector within the cannabis industry, as more knowledge is developed into the range of properties on offer amongst the different compounds found within the plant.

Finally, given the currently short shelf-life of cannabis compounds, another area of interest that could develop is particle engineering which will allow the study of new formulations for improvement of stability. Drug delivery mechanisms and the development of new formulations should also mean development for the drug discovery sector.

About the author

Carl Esprey founded Botanical Holdings in early 2020 with a focus on investing within the legal cannabis sector. He leads a management team that includes experts across the whole range of disciplines within this industry. This includes legal cannabis cultivation, pharmacology, agronomy, product development and pharmaceuticals.

Esprey is also Executive Director of Contango Holdings, which has a 70% interest in the Lubu Coal Project based in Zimbabwe. 

A qualified Chartered Accountant and Chartered Financial Analyst, Carl Esprey has worked within the natural resource investment and development sector for many years.

Related Articles

Join FREE today and become a member
of Drug Discovery World

Membership includes:

  • Full access to the website including free and gated premium content in news, articles, business, regulatory, cancer research, intelligence and more.
  • Unlimited App access: current and archived digital issues of DDW magazine with search functionality, special in App only content and links to the latest industry news and information.
  • Weekly e-newsletter, a round-up of the most interesting and pertinent industry news and developments.
  • Whitepapers, eBooks and information from trusted third parties.
Join For Free