The legalization of cannabis has created many opportunities for researchers to study the compounds in the cannabinoid family and discover new uses for them. Demetrix, a synthetic biology company engineering yeast strains to make cannabinoids (compounds found in cannabis), is taking research to the next level by signing its first commercial manufacturing contract.
Through a new partnership with a contract manufacturing organization (CMO), Demetrix will make rare cannabinoids using fermentation with commercial-scale production. Demetrix has not publicly shared their CMO partner but an official announcement is expected shortly. The first cannabinoid product the company plans to bring to market is Cannabigerol (CBG). CBG is significant because it is one of the first cannabinoids in the chemical pathway that cannabis plants make.
Improving People’s Health and Wellness
According to Jeff Ubersax, CEO of Demetrix, the company is dedicated to using science to make the world a better place. They are looking at natural molecules found in the world that have the potential to have a positive impact on people’s lives.
The partnership with the new CMO expands Demetrix’s production abilities and is expected to enable the company to deliver on its mission. “The agreement will help us go from producing kilograms of rare cannabinoids to metric tons every year,” says Ubersax. “What we think is really important is making rare, natural products that improve people’s health and wellness. We want to make them available through all sorts of different applications, including pharmaceuticals and skincare.”
Studying the Potential of Cannabinoids
Although cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) make up most of the content in cannabis plants, they are not the only compounds that matter. The plants also have many rare cannabinoids with potential health and manufacturing uses that can now be studied.
Since the passage of the Farm Bill in 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) removed hemp, cannabis, and the derivatives of cannabis with very low concentrations of THC (no more than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis), from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This means that there is greater access to cannabinoids for researchers to study.
Research on cannabinoids has been limited in the past because of regulatory restrictions and their inherent scarcity in plants. It was difficult for people to study them because it takes a lot of plant biomass to make minor cannabinoids. For example, some cannabinoids exist at levels of less than 2% in the plants, so purification requires a tremendous amount of plant biomass to extract the molecules. However, Demetrix’s fermentation process allows them to grow large amounts of cannabinoids safely.
“We are not a cannabis company. We are a cannabinoid company,” says Ubersax. Demetrix is focusing on more than 100 rare cannabinoids and spending significant resources to understand what they can do, how they differ from each other, and their potential applications in everything from skincare to food and beverages to pharmaceutical ingredients.
A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that cannabinoids may help reduce inflammation, pain, and anxiety. Cannabinoids may even slow down tumor growth in cancer.
Demetrix’s first focus, CBG, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. It cannot make you high, but it has other benefits that could improve your health. For example, CBG has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that could have therapeutic uses.
“We are committed to providing access to the cannabinoid molecules and what they do. Something that has been missing about the minor cannabinoids is a greater understanding of their safety and usefulness,” says Ubersax.
Demetrix has discovered it is more economical and socially responsible to make cannabinoids through fermentation. By using yeast to produce cannabinoids, the company lowers costs and makes products with higher purity and more consistency.
There are many environmental concerns about traditional cannabinoid farming because growing cannabis or hemp indoors requires a lot of energy. You need electricity for lighting and climate control. Growing cannabis indoors uses 1% of the total electricity produced in the U.S. and costs $6 billion per year. This also creates 15 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which equals about 3 million cars.
Outdoor cannabinoid farming has other problems and requires a large amount of water, pesticides, and herbicides. Growers also have to contend with heavy metals in the soil.
Fermentation provides a way to make rare cannabinoids in a more sustainable, scalable, affordable, and consistent way. Companies that care about environmental stewardship and being socially responsible without wanting to sacrifice quality and reproducibility turn to fermentation as an alternative production method.
“Fermentation can bring the price of cannabinoids down to a point where they are widely available for all sorts of consumer products and pharmaceutical ingredients,” says Ubersax.
Creating a reliable supply of molecules that are safe and effective is possible through fermentation. This process can unleash the enormous potential of cannabinoids and positively improve people’s lives around the world.
Thank you to Lana Bandoim for additional research and reporting in this article. I’m the founder of SynBioBeta, and some of the companies that I write about are sponsors of the SynBioBeta conference and weekly digest.
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