Now that recreational cannabis is legal across Canada, EY is looking at the issues that are likely to arise in this new and untried sector. In this edition of our series Let’s be blunt, we talked to Dr. Joseph Gabriele, chief executive officer and chief science officer of Delivra Corp., about how the medical cannabis sector’s demands for innovation differ from those of the recreational sector.
EY: What does innovation mean in the cannabis sector?
JG: Generally, the recreational and medical cannabis sectors are separate and have different goals, but one thing they have in common is the desire to innovate. Both need to take their inspiration and guiding light from the same source: the consumer.
Innovation isn’t simply about creating new flavours or experiences. It’s about listening to consumers and learning what they really need and want. Innovation should be a means to an end, not an end unto itself.
EY: How do you define innovation at Delivra?
JG: Delivra was born from innovation. We were solving a real medical problem. We all know the dangers of opioids and the gastrointestinal problems associated with oral pain relievers. Delivery mechanisms and opioids that are commonly used in medicine today typically have a longer onset period, don’t provide targeted or localized relief, and often have debilitating side effects. Delivra solved the problem by inventing a precision transdermal delivery system — an emollient cream that allows the body to absorb the medicine through the skin — so active ingredients can be delivered directly to the source of the pain in a time-controlled manner. This delivery system welcomes all passengers, so it can deliver natural health products, prescription ingredients, CBD and cannabis.
EY: What’s the current focus of your research in medical and recreational cannabis?
JG: The focus of our medical cannabis research program is to purify, profile and standardize the different cannabinoid molecules and formulate them in oral, liquid and skin-absorption delivery systems. More specifically, the main premise of the research is to provide a standardized finished product with a consistent and predictable outcome so the experience is the same for the patient every time. For doctors to believe in the medical or therapeutic properties of cannabis, they need to see those predictable outcomes validated by peer-reviewed, evidence-based research.
On the recreational side, Delivra’s focus is essentially the same as on the medical side. There needs to be standardization and proper dosing, so that recreational users don’t consume too much of the intoxicating cannabinoids, resulting in adverse reactions or negative experiences.
EY: What are some important factors for properly setting up clinical research and R&D in the medical space? What are some major challenges?
JG: The biggest challenge is that the government is slow in determining what can and what cannot be done in a lab. R&D for medicinal uses of cannabis is more like conventional pharmaceuticals. There’s greater rigor to processes and more oversight from Health Canada, and there has to be a stable and consistent source of active pharmaceutical ingredients, for example.
Delivra’s new cannabis laboratory in PEI will have a fee-for-service analytical lab that will make sure the cannabis tested is free of microbiological substances like bacteria, mold and fungus, as well as heavy metals and pesticides. What differentiates our new lab from standard analytical labs is that it will provide formulations, preclinical trials and clinical trial services to validate each finished product. These services will make cannabis consumption safer for users, so they can better enjoy the experience.
EY: What do you predict will be a breakthrough in medical cannabis?
JG: The breakthrough will come through evidence-based medicine at the lab level followed by validation at the clinical level. Understanding how cannabinoid molecules interact in the body with the endo-cannabinoid system, and possibly working together with other systems like dopamine, will provide some great insights. This plant has many medicinal benefits, but we need to understand it at both the molecular and physiological levels.
EY: How important do you think the R&D licence under the new Cannabis Act framework is for preparing cannabis, ancillary and adjacent industry companies for phase 2 of legalization when more product forms will legally be available for consumers in Canada?
JG: Since this is a new industry, the government is doing its best to set the guidelines in real time. The importance of education can’t be overstated, especially in terms of safety of cannabis. For a product to be safe — in whatever form you’re delivering the active ingredient — it needs to be standardized and consistent. This will be the only way a product can produce predicable outcomes. A prime example of this is in future edibles and hotspots. Cookies and cakes and other infused foods and beverages need to have a standardized level of the active ingredient that is consistent throughout the product to prevent potential negative consequences for consumers.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
The views of the third parties set out in this publication are not necessarily the views of the global EY organization or its member firms. Moreover, they should be seen in the context of the time they were made.