Jazz Pharmaceuticals PLC’s (NASDAQ:JAZZ) recently-announced deal to acquire cannabis-derived drug maker GW Pharmaceuticals plc (NASDAQ:GWPH) for US$7.2 billion in cash and stock has boosted investor interest in the cannabis pharmaceuticals space, providing a lift to the share prices of companies such as Willow Biosciences Inc (TSE:WLLW) (OTCQX:CANSF).
Shares of Willow Biosciences have climbed more than 43% year to date, to its current price of C$1.68, and have gained more than 120% over the past 52 weeks.
Willow has developed a proprietary biosynthetic process to manufacture cannabis compounds in commercial quantities. Essentially, Willow transfers the genetic information of the plant into yeast, creating a miniature factory that increases cannabinoid production and allows for efficient large-scale manufacturing. The process results in higher purity product, at lower cost, with significantly less environmental impact.
READ: Willow Biosciences moves towards revenue generation as it expects first sales of CBG in second quarter of 2021
“GW was a trailblazer in plant-based cannabinoid pharmacology. They are being recognized in this transaction not only for their flagship drug Epidiolex, but also for the tremendous pipeline of work with cannabinoids in other indications, such as autism and glioma,” Willow Biosciences CEO Trevor Peters told Proactive.
GW Pharmaceuticals sells a medication called Epidiolex for children with severe epilepsy and became the first drug derived from the cannabis plant to win approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Epidiolex contains cannabidiol, which produces an anticonvulsant effect through its interaction with prominent components of the nervous system.
GW Pharma, though, is in competition with other companies currently synthesizing derivatives from cannabis plants with a goal to create predictable, pharmaceutical-grade ingredients that involve less regulatory risk since the amount of THC is low enough not to create a ‘high’.
“What this acquisition means is that cannabinoids have been validated as having true pharmacological potential beyond treating childhood epilepsy,” Peters added. ”For Willow, we are well suited to manufacture both major and minor plant-based cannabinoids for the pharmaceutical market, given the extremely high purity we can produce at today, and the fact that regulatory bodies are favourably disposed to biosynthesis as a method of manufacturing.”
Willow’s proprietary process allows it to produce a rare cannabinoid compound known as cannabigerol, or CBG. Referred to as the “mother of all cannabinoids” because it naturally evolves into other cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, CBG is a non-psychoactive compound that could have antimicrobial and anti-oxidant functions in humans. But the cannabinoid occurs in very small concentrations in the plant, making it difficult to manufacture economically at high purity levels.
The company announced in December that it expects its first sales of CBG in the second quarter of 2021 - six months ahead of expectations. It is also planning to become the first company to launch biosynthetically-produced THC in Canada.
“Our team has strong backgrounds working with pharmaceutical companies in manufacturing active pharmaceutical ingredients for drug compounds, and cannabinoids will be a set of products we are well positioned to work with pharma on,” Peters added.
Cannabis is still in the early stages of research and development for medical purposes and now that the Democrats have control of the US Congress as well as the Presidency, pro-cannabis legislation is expected to be passed in the United States, especially on the medical side.
Contact Sean at [email protected]
Story by ProactiveInvestors
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