A couple of months ago, a Dutch company was granted an exemption to the Opium Act for research purposes, allowing them to start their cannabis research. Dominique van Gruisen, Managing Director and co-founder of Innexo BV, a contract research organization with a specific focus on cannabis cultivation, explains what it is the company is aiming for: "We select the research projects we perform for clients, based on the level of innovation and the positive impact they can have on the cannabis industry as a whole. The ultimate goal is to have safer, more affordable, and more reliable cannabis products accessible to patients. Technology and practical research into the impacts of this technology in cannabis cultivation can help achieve that."
A need for contract research
Innexo will be performing contract research trials for technology developers as well as licensed producers. "On the one hand, we want to focus on companies that are developing technologies that help improve consistency and yield, plant health, or reduce energy consumption, for example. We will help advance the development of these technologies and the visibility of these products to leading industry players through controlled research trials. During our technology demonstration trials, several companies can jointly participate. That does not only lower research costs but also provides them the opportunity to bring B2B clients to a safe place where their technology is being tested and validated in a controlled trial on cannabis without having to visit a licensed producer. Furthermore, by having several complementary parties' teaming up', potential technological synergies can be explored."
For those unaware: contract research is a very common practice for leading stakeholders (producers, breeders, manufacturers, suppliers, etc.) in the agriculture and horticultural industry; and is the main driver for innovations, product development, and registration.
On the other hand, Innexo will provide licensed producers the opportunity to outsource their (high-risk) research. Van Gruisen explains that this is beneficial for growers, who oftentimes want to do everything themselves. "What you often see in the cannabis industry is that licensed producers want to develop their own knowledge and do their own research, which is understandable. However, doing research is completely different from overseeing your regular production. You need the right knowledge, facilities, and capacity and the ability to adapt quickly. Therefore, Innexo is a confidential and independent third party to which licensed producers worldwide can outsource their research. It is important to stress that all the intellectual property that is developed during a contract research trial remains the sole property of the client; just like any other normal contract research," he says.
Innexo has both indoor and greenhouse facilities available for their trials. Moreover, they have the possibility to use the phytopathology laboratory of their sister company Botany BV for R&D on pests and diseases. As a result, they have the ability to deliberately infect the plants with pathogenic fungi, bacteria, and harmful insects, in a controlled setting in order to study the plants' reaction. "It is important for licensed producers to know that there is a place where they can safely outsource this type of research, as this removes majors risks for their own production."
Currently, Innexo is preparing their first research trials by selecting and propagating genetics specifically for each research trial. This is an important step in the process, van Gruisen explains. "We always establish first what type of plant is necessary to conduct the research with the highest chance of success possible. For example, some genetics are more sensitive to bud rot than others. When using the optimal genetics for a specific trial, the results are more valuable for the industry as a whole."
Improving the industry
So what are some important aspects in the industry that need improvement and thus research? First of all, consistency of the secondary metabolite profile the cannabis plant produces for medicinal purposes. "It is a challenge for growers to create consistency in their cannabis production. The cannabinoid levels need to be consistent batch after batch, making it a reliable product for the patient and the pharmaceutical industry. However, cannabis plants adapt to a changing environment very quickly, meaning that the cannabinoid levels change as well, so creating that consistency is challenging. Technologies that can help improve the consistency of these pharmaceutical components in this plant are one aspect we are looking at."
"At Innexo, we believe there should also be less focus on producing the highest THC levels possible, as it is more important to produce the cannabinoids in a balanced and yet consistent way." Luckily, there is a variety of technologies available that can help the grower with their production, such as LED lighting recipes, nutrients and biostimulants, and disease-resistant varieties. "If growers have a stronger plant that is consistent and has fewer disease problems, that will, of course, also be greatly beneficial for many different reasons."
Another important topic of research will be energy efficiency. In pretty much all industries, energy consumption is currently a major topic. Of course, the cannabis industry is no exception. According to Van Gruisen, a cucumber grower who cultivates during wintertime in a greenhouse will use lights of around 250 micromoles, whereas a greenhouse cannabis producer will have 1000 (or even more) micromole lights hanging. "In The Netherlands, for example, this could become an issue once licenses are given for a regulated, commercial cannabis market in the future. From the start, we need to focus on making the production as sustainable as possible."
"It is important that we – together with our partners and clients - continue to think in innovative ways on how we can improve and raise the industry benchmark. Indoors, for example, vertical farming can be a great way to maximize the space you have. But you can also look at different ways of using your greenhouse as energy-efficiently as possible. As a global nascent cannabis industry, we can learn a lot from other industries. But we must be bold and work together to innovate, validate and shape a better future for patients who rely on cannabis-based medicines."
These are just a few aspects that Innexo is looking forward to working on. "There are still major steps to be made in the cannabis industry, and we are excited to help the industry improve and add to the global knowledge base through contract research."
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