Greenlab awarded co-funding grant to help grow New Zealand’s medicinal cannabis industry
New Zealand biotech Greenlab has secured funding from the country’s federal government for a program which will accelerate the development of a domestic medicinal cannabis industry.
The Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures grant was awarded by New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries and will be used for a medicinal cannabis research program at Lincoln University, on the country’s South Island.
It will see the government co-fund up to 40% (or $760,000) of the program’s costs over the next three years.
The Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures initiative promotes problem solving and innovation in New Zealand’s food and fibre sectors.
The government has to date co-funded more than $142 million for 163 domestic projects worth almost $313 million in total.
Greenlab’s project aims to develop synchronised agronomic and biochemical parameters to establish an evidence-based medicinal cannabis industry in New Zealand.
The concept has been legal since 2020 and there is a lack of available scientific information, as well as an industry code of practice, to help guide the domestic cultivation of therapeutically-active compounds.
Licenced commercial growers are being challenged to churn out product of a known medical potency, but with inadequate guidelines which could result in unsellable products due to unmet chemistry and quality standards.
Greenlab director for research and commercialisation Dr Parmjit Randhawa said the project funding would have a positive benefit on New Zealand’s efforts.
“It will help us ensure that the country’s licenced growers have access to essential knowledge and insights,” he said.
“The outputs will also kickstart a commercial cannabis breeding program in New Zealand that will improve medical plant varieties.”
He said Greenlab had created “rigorous research infrastructure” to test unknown New Zealand genetics for cannabinoids and terpene profiles, with the results expected to form the basis for future plant-based medicines.
New Zealand’s agriculture minister Damien O’Connor said the Greenlab project would help build a quality industry.
“The research team aims to generate standard cultivation protocols for a range of New Zealand genetics with the optimised pharmaceutical compounds required by doctors and needed by patients to improve their quality of life,” he said.
“The funding will ensure growers have access to essential industry knowledge and insights much further and faster than would have otherwise been possible.”
High-quality and effective
Mr O’Connor said the investment would allow for rigorous trials and lab testing to ensure a range of consistently high-quality and effective pharmaceutical products.
“The aim is to establish sustainable and efficient New Zealand-based medical cultivation practices and share the findings with other licensed domestic growers,” he said.
“A successful medicinal cannabis industry will generate significant export revenue, provide jobs and produce locally-grown pharmaceutical options for patients.”
New Zealand currently has 37 medicinal cannabis cultivation licences issued by the Ministry of Health.
Less than 50 hectares nationwide is being used to grow medicinal cannabis and the domestic market is supplied almost completely by imports.
White label sales
Greenlab’s Australia-based director Rupinder Brar said that the current white label sale of two Greenlab products in Australian market is progressing well and company is on the path to generate close to $1 million revenue in the current fiscal year.
Mr Brar has been influential in developing an offshore relationship with investors, manufacturers, and prescribers.
He said the company is working on introducing two more white label products to the market and registering one of these in New Zealand.
In addition to providing a revenue stream, white label products generate vital information on medicines required by doctors and patients and allows Greenlab to focus on producing novel compounds with optimised therapeutic potential.
Legalising medicinal cannabis
In 2018, the New Zealand Government made it legal for patients in a palliative care setting to possess and use cannabis.
A year later, it introduced a law to facilitate the manufacture of medicinal cannabis products to a minimum quality standard for local and international markets.
By 2020, medicinal cannabis usage in New Zealand had grown by 84%, and the country’s pharmacies were dispensing up to 1,800 prescriptions per month.
The emerging industry has the potential to generate an export market worth more than $2 billion provided exporters can establish a viable value proposition.
However, there is currently a lack of publicly-available information for growers in the country to produce commercial quality medicinal cannabis flower for export.
New Zealand’s quality assurance standards are among the most stringent in the world.