Cannabis Farming Fuels UK Biotechnology

by , in CBD (Cannabidiol)

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CBD-Rich Cannabis Supplies Biotech Industry 

The Wissington glasshouse is a massive feat of engineering. Built in 2000 by the huge conglomerate British Sugar, the leading UK beet sugar producer, as a way to utilize excess CO2 from its nearby sugar plant, it was designed to be an almost self sufficient grower in the mass produce sector.

The glasshouse has more than 240 miles of piping that carries hot water from the factory’s Combined Heat & Power Plant (CHP) all year round. This hot water is used to maintain temperatures that suit whatever plants are growing inside. The glasshouse also utilizes waste carbon dioxide from the sugar factory which the plants inside the structure use during photosynthesis.

Tomatoes Crops Out, Cannabis Plants In!

It harvests rainwater from the glasshouse roof. Normally, that fact wouldn’t be too interesting except that the glasshouse roof is the size of 17 soccer fields. It allows over 115 million liters of water to be collected annually to irrigate the plants inside.

For 16 years, British Sugar used this 18-hectare Wissington glasshouse in Norfolk (which is the largest in the UK) to grow tomatoes.

Because of its close proximity to the company’s nearby Wissington sugar plant, the glasshouse’s world-class facilities were perfectly-suited to produce 140 million tomatoes for the company annually.

However, in a complete departure from its past, the company announced through a press release last October   that its well-established horticultural business would phase out its tomato production at its glasshouse in favor of a new, much more lucrative cash crop instead.

Endorsement for Cannabis Farms 

Cannabidiol or CBD is a non-psychoactive compound found in the cannabis sativa plant that has shown immense promise for treating a variety of different medical conditions. After recognizing the potential upside for this crop, British Sugar signed a long-term contract to grow CBD-rich cannabis to supply British biopharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceuticals in October 2016.

This news came as a bit of a shock as this was the first time a well-established agriculture company was putting its considerable weight and support behind cannabis. However, anyone who looked at this deal objectively could immediately see that the decision was a no-brainer for the company.

Much of the infrastructure that is needed to grow tomatoes can also be used to grow high quality, medical-grade cannabis. More importantly, the greenhouse is almost completely self-sufficient. This makes it the perfect facility for cannabis cultivation. Aside from a few minor tweaks, making the transition from producing a cheap crop like tomatoes, to a much more lucrative cash crop like cannabis has been relatively easy.

According to Paul Kenward, managing director of British Sugar, “Our glasshouse is very well suited for growing that particular variety of the cannabis plant family and it’s fair to say that the return will be better than on tomatoes. We’re confident of decent yields.”

Since the announcement, the company has moved forward with its plans to phase out the tomatoes and has already harvested its first crop of CBD-rich cannabis.

They are growing a variety of the non‐psychoactive cannabis plant family, known as M250 which is specifically bred for use in GW Pharmaceutical’s CBD drug, Epidiolex.

As we’ve discussed previously, CBD-rich cannabis is the main ingredient in GW Pharmaceutical’s breakthrough drug called Epidiolex which is a liquid formulation of pure plant-derived cannabidiol (CBD). GW Pharmaceuticals hopes that the new drug will be used to treat rare, treatment-resistant childhood-onset epilepsy disorders which includes Dravet Syndrome, Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, and infantile spasms. Recently, the company published very promising results from the world’s first double-blind, placebo-controlled trial that showed Epidiolex’s efficacy for treating Dravet Syndrome. They are on track for a new drug application submission to the FDA in the middle of this year

A Matter of Supply and Demand

Ahead of the launch of their new CBD drug, the executives of GW Pharmaceuticals are definitely not short on confidence, that’s for sure. Though Epidiolex has yet to gain approval, the company has already announced plans to ramp up cultivation and manufacturing of the plant in anticipation of a massive global drug rollout and blockbuster sales.

Currently, British Sugar is contracted to produce enough of this ingredient to treat the equivalent of up to 40,000 children globally. If Epidiolex proves to be as successful as everyone is hoping, this amount would need to increase significantly in order to adequately supply the anticipated global demand.

To prepare, GW Pharmaceuticals has already announced that it will spend £30M over the next three years to more than triple capacity at one of its manufacturing facilities in the South East. This facility processes the compounds in the cannabis plants and turns them into Epidiolex. If all goes well, 2019 could be the year that CBD is finally thrust into the spotlight as the miracle drug of the future. Here’s hoping it does.

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