Harvard Teams With Edmonton Based Company to Study Medical Cannabis
Edmonton-based Atlas Biotechnologies has partnered with the new International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute at Harvard Medical School to study how cannabis can help chronic pain and neurological conditions.
“Our partnership will allow us to prove the efficacy of what these products can do,” says president and CEO Sheldon Croome.
Like many other licensed cannabis producers in Canada, the staff at subsidiary Atlas Growers’ production facility, about 90 km northwest of Edmonton in Lac Ste. Anne County, goes to work in hair nets, medical-style scrubs and latex gloves in a 38,000-square-foot highly secured cultivation facility to plant, harvest, dry, trim, mill, extract and package a fresh crop every two to three weeks.
But Atlas isn’t satisfied with simply growing plants, or processing them into extracts to sell. They want to know exactly what cannabis can do for the medical patients who are their customers.
The company will partner with the Harvard institute over at least three years, supplying cannabis products along with about $3 million, with the goal of conducting clinical trials beginning in 2020.
“We know medical cannabis has been recorded to have medicinal value for pain (and) neurological conditions for thousands of years. But the problem is that it is very anecdotal. Even the science is very conflicting,” says Will Ngwa, director of Harvard Global Health Catalyst and professor in radiation oncology at Harvard Medical school via videoconference.
“There is a deep value and opportunity right now, especially with the opioid crisis in North America right now, to look at this alternative,” he says.
Ngwa’s research collaboration will collect the data and start a clinical trial, and he says Atlas is an ideal partner because of the company’s commitment to research.
“There are many organizations that are trying to get into this market, but they aren’t ready to provide the science, the evidence, which is really important,” says Ngwa.
Atlas’ plant varieties, many of which are proprietary, have been carefully chosen, bred and produced for combinations of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids for specific medical applications.
Staff control every factor possible, from temperature and humidity to light, filtered air, carbon dioxide, heat and nutrients in order to safely replicate the crops they need, says Jim Hole, vice-president of cultivation.
Planted in special mediums like rock wool or bio-char, which are better at keeping dangerous microbes out and absorbing any contaminants, these cannabis plants are fed carefully measured nutrients and water through a tube irrigation system.
“It’s challenging, exciting and intimidating,” says Hole.
“The best thing is looking at plants that are healthy, because you’re doing the right thing,” says Hole.
For now, the company is producing oils and capsules, but in the fall, it wants its cannabis extracts to be used in other products such as oral sprays, topical creams and transdermal patches similar to nicotine patches.
The federal government has set a deadline of October 2019 to legalize edible cannabis, concentrates and lotions in Canada. Regulators like Health Canada and doctors around the world rely on evidence-based research to approve and prescribe cannabis.
“If there is no evidence that backs the use of medical cannabis, doctors won’t prescribe it. So we know that investing in that evidence is going to reward us in the long run when we move to other markets, such as Europe,” says Jeffry Gossain, chief operating officer at Atlas.
“Our purpose is not just health care, but development, because if you can develop products that are more accessible — compared to expensive drugs to address pain — this will really level the playing field,” says Ngwa.
The first sales of Atlas products are expected to ship in the coming weeks.