One of the world’s largest cannabis companies, Aurora Cannabis, and the world’s premier mixed martial arts organisation, UFC, have struck a deal to conduct a joint clinical research program into hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD) – with intentions of creating a high-performance sports brand called ROAR Sports.
The pair signed a sponsorship deal in May this year with a plethora of options already on the table including lucrative endorsements and marketing products to billions of fans worldwide.
Combining the two powerhouse companies will mean product development is well-funded and could potentially be fast-tracked towards final US Food and Drug Administration approval given the non-invasive nature of CBD and the fact that the two companies are developing topical products only.
UFC is the largest pay-per-view event provider in the world, boasting more than 300 million fans in over 170 countries and streaming regular broadcasts to 1 billion households world-wide.
Meanwhile, Aurora produces around 625,000kg per annum of cannabis and drives sales and operations in 24 countries.
As one of the world’s largest cannabis companies, Aurora is vertically integrated and horizontally diversified across every key segment of the value chain, from facility engineering to cannabis breeding and genetics research, cannabis and hemp production, derivatives, high value-add product development, home cultivation and retail distribution.
Fighting for market turf
According to a joint statement, Aurora and UFC said the ultimate aim is to create an effective treatment for pain, inflammation, wound healing and recovery for mixed martial arts athletes, but also, the wider public.
One expected by-product of conducting extensive research and developing CBD-based products is to reduce the existing stigma of CBD given its origins in cannabis, a drug that is still considered illicit in most countries around the world.
In Canada and the US, cannabis is quickly undergoing a legislative revolution with both medicinal and recreational uses now legal.
Speaking at a press conference to announce the deal, Aurora chief executive officer Terry Booth said that the two organisations will develop a new high-performance sports brand called ROAR Sports and will ultimately deliver a portfolio of high-quality, hemp-derived CBD topical treatments scientifically formulated with elite athletes in mind.
It is hoped that the newly developed products will help combat the rapidly growing market of untested CBD treatments currently being used by high-performance and non-professional athletes.
“This is a ground-breaking deal, not just for the UFC but for sports and humanity in general,” said enigmatic UFC President Dana White.
“When you think about this the amount of money that’s going to go into the testing and the research of this deal is going to affect our athletes, then it’s going to spill into the NFL, the NBA and soccer.”
“And eventually into just regular people like us that workout every day or deal with chronic pain. I believe that this thing really is the future and when we see things like this, we’ve always been first to dive in,” he said.
From research to market
In order to develop CBD-based products with a good safety profile and strong efficacy, Aurora and UFC plan to conduct a multi-phase clinical study at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas.
According to Aurora, clinical studies will be led by a dedicated team of researchers including Dr Jason Dyck, chair of Aurora’s Global Scientific Oversight Committee, Dr Kelly Narine, Aurora’s vice president of global research and medical affairs and the team of sports performance experts at the UFC Performance Institute, led by UFC vice president of performance, Dr Duncan French.
To ensure the finished products are truly effective and functional, the UFC confirmed that only willing participants will be allowed to participate in the clinical studies.
The conducted studies will help establish peer-reviewed research into CBD, will be in full compliance with US federal law, and will fall within the limitations of UFC’s anti-doping program, which adheres to WADA and USADA regulations.
“Our partnership with UFC is about committing to the science that will educate and advocate,” Aurora chief executive officer Terry Booth said.
“We are going to work together to change the way people think, to change the industry, and to launch the first hemp-derived CBD products that are backed by scientific research.”
“The brand-building and product development are all part of our move into the US, and in collaboration with UFC, and we intend to play a major role in that market,” Mr Booth added.
“Although CBD is allowed under USADA and WADA regulations, we want to be the leaders on educating UFC athletes on CBD use,” said Jeff Novitzky, UFC Senior Vice President of Athlete Health & Performance.
“Athlete safety is a top priority for UFC, and we will collaborate with Aurora to ensure that any new products are third-party tested for all WADA-prohibited substances to make certain they meet WADA standards,” he added.
Last month, another major MMA organisation teamed up with a cannabis developer to market CBD products to its respective audience.
Bellator and cbdMD announced a multi-year exclusive partnership for cbdMD to receive an array of integrated partnership assets such as category-exclusive branding inside the Bellator cage.
A company that combine sports and cannabis has also emerged in Australia.
Impression Healthcare (ASX: IHL) is advancing an array of products in niche medical markets – including the development of unique medicinal cannabis products.
The ASX-listed company has agreed to an exclusive research and supply agreement that sees the healthcare company becoming the official traumatic brain injury research partner and mouthguard supply partner for Boxing Australia.
The terms of the deal will see Impression supply Boxing Australia with the FitGuard by Gameday head impact monitoring platform, to be used in training and fully-fledged competitions by elite Australian boxers.
In parallel to its oral devices manufacturing unit, Impression also has licences in place to import, export and distribute cannabis products.
And, Impression is conducting an Australian-first CBD trial into traumatic brain injury and concussion, potentially using FitGuard to monitor head impact during that trial.
In March this year, the company executed a binding collaboration with Cannvalate and Swinburne University of Technology to undertake four medicinal cannabis clinical trials and has a collaboration agreement with leading US Cannabinoid therapeutics company, AXIM Biotechnologies.
Only yesterday, the chief executive officer and chairman of Cannvalate, Dr Sud Agarwal, joined the board of Impression as chief medical officer.
Mike Tyson enters the arena
Growing incidences of professional fighters using cannabis-derived products even includes one of the most iconic boxers of all time – Iron Mike Tyson has set up a business aimed at producing and distributing cannabis in virtue of a potent range of smokable cannabis, extracts and edibles.
Tyson says he wants to help style how the cannabis industry engages with popular culture by drawing up plans for a luxury 400-acre resort catering for cannabis users.
Not quite a CBD-based performance angle like those taken by the UFC and Bellator – but nevertheless – the former world champion is also keen to monetise the growing cannabis space while knocking down long-held stigmas about its use.