The Consumption of Cannabis As A Medicine For Cancer: An Exclusive Interview With Cannabics Pharmaceuticals CEO Eyal Barad
A PotNetwork Exclusive
For all of the debate and discussion and media hype surrounding medical marijuana, it is rare to find a cannabis company bold enough to tackle something as devastating as cancer head-on. But, in an industry that trades on what is possible, bio-pharma company Cannabics Pharmaceuticals Inc. (CNBX) works with what is probable. The company focuses its research and expertise on cannabis-based treatment for cancer, personalized anti-cancer diagnostics and precision medications that bring to life the full promise and potential of medical marijuana.
And yet, with technology based on Israeli R&D licensed by the Israeli Ministry of Health for scientific and clinical research, it is almost a given that Cannabics would push the limits of cannabis research. Israel is, after all, home to some of the world’s most groundbreaking research in the field. It is where Dr. Raphael Mechoulam first researched the synthesis of THC, among other things, earning him, the nickname the Grandfather of Cannabis, and it is where some of today’s top scientists in the industry call home.
We spoke with Cannabics Chief Executive Officer Eyal Barad to learn more about the company’s anti-cancer cannabis research, and to find out what he thinks about the cannabis industry at-large. Eyal was kind enough to brave the time difference between Israel and the East Coast to share his thoughts and insights on the medical marijuana sector.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. For the benefit of our readers, let’s start by discussing your background, personally, and how you came to be in the cannabis industry. I understand you were in advertising before working in the marijuana sector.
Well, that’s a great question —interesting story. I was, for many years, in the online advertising business. I was an angel investor involved in [Cannabics] at a very low-key level, in the background. And then about six or seven months ago, the CEO that was the main founder of the company brought me in to overlook operations as we built out our lab. And, as time went by, he realized that I was doing a lot of the stuff that he should have been doing a few months ago, and fell into a vacuum. He took me into the business and said, “I think you should take it over,” and he took a back seat.
It grew on me. I’ve started falling into this vacuum, even with less experience both on the scientific side —although I’m picking up on that rather quickly —and on the public side which I’m learning as well. This is a great challenge, and I’m very excited to be here. I must say that my online experience is coming into relevance a lot more —into the whole data side of it, because online media is all about data and medicine is a little bit lacking and sort of behind where we were, there. So, I think that we’re coming to a lot of uses. We use new technology, and we’re applying the latest technology in medicine into our platform. So, that’s just background on me a little bit.
If we could shift gears to the company for a moment, let’s talk about Cannabics from a big picture perspective. Would you talk about your role in the larger cannabis sector, and what it is Cannabics brings to the marijuana industry that’s different than other companies?
Cannabics got started about five years ago. Probably about four years ago we got licensed in Israel. We’re one of the first companies in the world to get a federal license to be able to do R&D with cannabis for the purpose of medicine. Running out of the gate when we first got our license, we developed a slow release capsule that was pretty much a generic product that we later – and still currently – we are just finalizing a clinical trial with it. We sold the rights to a company out of Colorado to be able to market it in Colorado for a slow release tablet. But, once again, that was a generic product.
What we did is, we ran a clinical study in one of the leading universities here in Israel where we took cancer cells, and we did what’s called a drug sensitivity test. We dropped various combinations of the various parts of cannabinoids on cancer cells. We found that what was interested was that various combinations have different effects on different cannabinoids and, with the right combination, you’re actually causing the cancer cells to commit suicide, like, apoptosis and it doesn’t affect the healthy cells.
Cannabics has had some recent success with preclinical studies on the antitumor effects of cannabinoids on cancerous tumor cells if I recall correctly. Can you discuss in detail your company’s research and where you hope to go with that in the future?
This got us, very, very curious and we wrote a patent around that whole process of actually doing the personalized testing for —it could be for people, it could be on cells and around the whole system of actually taking cancer cells and checking them with various cannabinoids, then coming out with formulations that are personalized for each person and each cancer. We raised the money, and we are just in the last phases right now back [in] our lab in Rehovot [in the Central District of Israel, South of Tel Aviv] near The Weizmann Institute, and building our scientific team out. We’re the only ones that are focused on this in the world, and that’s the research of cannabinoids and cancer on the anti-tumor side of it.
So I just want to take one step back by identifying the problems today in medicine. It’s that doctors are prescribing cannabis, but they don’t really know what they’re prescribing and how to prescribe it. Then, the person is going to the dispensary and the guy there is telling him sativa, indica, THC, CBD, and he doesn’t understand what’s going on. Our purpose is to provide that data for the clinician and for the patient to be able to make wiser decisions on their consumption of cannabis as a medicine for cancer.
Having said that, it’s along that line of cancer patients; there is also the palliative which brings me back to where we started our clinical trial by doing the 50/50 THC/CBD 10 milligram, and then the 5 milligram. Our purpose is, in the end, to make this into a precision medicine and a diagnostic so that we can actually check the effect of how it’s affecting [cancer] and be able to apply the right combination, at the right time, for the right person, for the right problem.
With the two main areas that Cannabics is focused on right now, the pill that contains a cannabis extract with a controlled mix of THC and CBD and the killing of cancer cells directly using cannabis oil, what kind of successes has the company been having, and what else are you looking at these days?
What we’ve found is that there are effects on cannabinoids. We’ve also, since then, hooked up and collaborated with a lab out of Germany where we’ve done different tests as well that show similar results. Every time you pick up another gear you move faster. We’re going into fourth gear right now with our lab going up, where we bought the latest in technology, with robots and everything, so that we have basically 400 plates with the ability to run it 24 hours a day, and check huge amounts, and collect the data.
Now, that brings us into the next thing which is the data, because the data here is —first of all, it’s a max amount of data because every kind of cell that you’re picking, you’re taking pictures of. I’ve been told there are 8,000 different characteristics on each image that you’re looking at which is megabytes and gigabytes of information that we’re setting up the infrastructure for. Then, analyzing that data leading to a decision-making process, narrowing down, and making more and more educated decisions on cannabis consumption for patients.
You have a pretty good team there at Cannabics, starting with one of your founders, Dr. Eyal Ballan. Would you talk about the people you have working for you and how they contribute to the success of the company?
Dr. Eyal Ballan is the co-founder and the brain behind the IP and the technology. He’s leading the science. We have Dr. Muriel Zohar who is a great, interesting addition that we brought on lately; she comes from academia and then went into industry, and then she went into the venture capital side, so she was investing in companies. She has an oncological background. Then, we have Dr. Haleli [Sharir] —and she actually comes, specifically, from research in the U.S. on the cannabinoid receptors in our body, and she’s just joined in the last month. Then, we have Dr. [Nir] Kfir who’s also just joined us; he came from a startup and finding the receptors. So we’re building out a team. Then, on the data side, we have Yasha [Borstein] who actually came from online trading. He was a “Big Data” guy for some of the bigger banks and pension funds in Canada, and he’s on our data side.
Speaking of “Big Data,” it’s an issue that permeates that cannabis industry today, as company after company looks for a solution in this area. What’s the tech side look like at Cannabics? In other words, what are some of the technologies that you’re using to help solve these problems?
We’re using the latest in medical technology. For instance, something that’s called CTC is Circulating Tumor Cells. When I mentioned Germany, what we were doing in Germany is taking 15-milliliter blood samples from people and extracting those cancer cells from their blood versus taking it from biopsies which is a lot more of a complex and intrusive procedure. From a simple blood sample, we’re able to do a drug sensitivity and apply various cannabinoids. The machinery that we bought in our lab which also enables us to do that once we go through the regulations, initially, is called a high-throughput screening machine, or high-content screening, which enables you to do multiple tests at multiple times with a robot that does the different focuses at different times and takes automatic pictures of the cells in real time.
We’re applying the latest in medical technology to cannabis. And I can tell you, not going too much into it, that we are on the hunt for other technology because we’re developing a system here, it’s not only the diagnostics, it’s not only the therapeutics, but it’s —for instance, I’ll give you a hint —delivery on that side. We’re very much looking at delivery which, today, we’ve done with a slow release capsule. There are other forms of tablets, there’s quick release, and slow release, and whatever, but there are different forms of delivery that may be interesting that we’ll be looking, once again, at the highest level of the newest technology coming out.
In April you received a new patent from the Patent Office in Israel for your method of high throughput screening of cancer cells. What has that meant to the company?
First of all, that’s the first in many to come. We’re at the national phase and then we’ve already applied to many different countries, and we’re expecting this to get responses in all those countries, hopefully, positive results as we did in Israel. But that means that we’ve been granted our patents on the system process of testing cannabinoids through an HTS system for cancer in Israel.
Speaking of Israel, it’s a real hotbed for the cannabis industry right now. First of all, the country is home to Professor Raphael Mechoulam who conducted groundbreaking research on THC. What is it that makes Israel so friendly to cannabis research?
I think, first of all, like you said, we have a big head start in Israel because there’s been a regulated medical cannabis regime going on for the last eight, nine years. I think that gave us a head start over many other countries including Canada. But think about that head start that we had, and we are able to dabble in this and play and do that initial research which got our curiosity going. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Start-up Nation, but Israel is always looking to be one step ahead. We’re out here, isolated, and always looking to be disruptive in some way or another, whether it’s in medical technology, or agro-business, or security, there’s just a lot of people out here always looking. And every kind of success that happens here, it’s like mushrooms. It buds out, and everybody wants to get into that business.
Then, we have good, well-educated people both on the science side and on the engineering side, or whatever it is. I think that gives Israel a big advantage. The fact that they’re growing here, already, for seven, eight years and there’s been testing going on in hospitals here, it has given us a big advantage. I think, now, the politicians here are seeing both economic and the scientific potential here, and they’re letting the reigns go as the pressure from people comes.
Let’s shift gears to the market, if we may because cannabis prices have been pretty volatile this year for any number of reasons, across all sectors. What do you see as the main factors, and do you see a change coming soon? Will the market go back up?
I think there’s going to be a differentiation. I think as the industry grows up there will be more separation of the boys and the men. The more mature companies, I think, will show more value and there will be other companies that enjoy the buzz, but there’s nothing substantial there. I think that will be effective as well. So, I think the whole market will mature and, yes, I do see a lot of potential, obviously, as the rules and regulations worldwide change and the potential markets open up, I see huge potential for an upside.
With GW Pharmaceuticals receiving approval from the FDA for their CBD-based drug Epidiolex, what do you think that means for the industry at large? Does that open up opportunities for you in the U.S. right now?
I think it definitely opens —you know, it brings back the legitimacy and credibility to the industry. The fact that a doctor will be able to prescribe a patient —and once again, GW is doing the 50/50 drug, so it’s a generic drug, but still, a doctor will be able to prescribe that. They may be able to get 50/50 in the dispensary, and how that will affect it? We have yet to see how that will play out but I think it will be, like, opening the crack in the dam that will allow a lot of other things to go through. Because just the toxicity studies and that kind of stuff that will be qualified will make it much easier for the rest to go through regulations.
Finally, what, if anything would you like the public-at-large to know about Cannabics that they don’t know already? What’s a part of the Cannabics story that needs to be put out there and shared?
Cannabics has not gone, at all, out of its way to tell the story. This is the first time we’re here with our antennas; the first time we’re actually going out to even tell our story. Which, we’re very, very passionate about; we’re very excited about. There’s nobody else that’s really taken on this mission of cancer and cannabis in the way that we are. We know we’re sitting on something huge and we’re very passionate and very excited about it. So I’m very happy to be able to have this opportunity to talk to you to even get this message out because it just has not been out there, we have not talked about it at all.