Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly moving into the cannabis industry, sparking a new wave of technological innovations that impact every part of the cannabis value chain. Technologies focus on genetic engineering, seed and plant protection, and cultivation processes. Notable advances include F1 hybrid seeds and automation technologies that improve efficiency and reduce labor costs.
The slow but steady march of pharmaceutical companies toward the cannabis industry has triggered a new era of technological innovation, bringing new techniques and technologies to every part of the cannabis value chain.
To maximize opportunities and mitigate risks, the focus has been on the research and development of targeted technologies upstream, downstream, and in the middle of the chain.
According to the Pharmaceutical Cannabis Report: 3rd Edition by Prohibition Partners, available today, new advancements are being made in the development of technologies focusing on the production of high-yield and consistent, profitable, and high-quality cannabis, as well as extraction methods and administration formats.
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Upstream Pharmaceutical Cannabis Technologies
Genetic Engineering and Crop Protection
In the pharmaceutical cannabis industry, upstream technologies mainly focus on the technologies used for the genetic engineering of cannabis varieties, seed and plant protection, and the cultivation process.
This agritech sector, expected to be worth $46.4 billion by 2030, covers a wide range of industries, but the “massive growth in innovation and technology” is being adopted by the cannabis industry in several key areas.
The first of these areas is genetic modification, which has seen a “significant development” in recent years by those in the cannabis industry dedicated to “providing pharmaceutical cannabis,” maximizing production efficiency, and reducing labor costs.
One advancement in this sector is the production of “F1 hybrid seeds.” While these seeds, which represent the first generation of a new variety from the selection of two different varieties, are not new in the agricultural sector, they have only appeared in the cannabis sector in recent years.
In 2022, a study conducted by Wageningen University and Research (WUR) in the Netherlands revealed that F1 hybrid seeds from F1 SeedTech were able to produce stable and uniform results that could be 15% more profitable than cloning due to the reduction in personnel needs and the time and space costs associated with the cloning process.
Automation and Robotics in Cannabis Cultivation
Automation and robotics also have a significant impact on personnel costs in the food and agriculture industry, and new systems are being developed for the cannabis industry.
American company Bloom Automation, specializing in cannabis agriculture, has developed 3D vision cameras that allow growers to monitor the entire plant in real-time, using a proprietary algorithm to provide real-time data on plant health, growth stage, and flower quality.
The company has also developed a robotic cutting system capable of distinguishing flowers from leaves with 97% accuracy. This is not only a level of accuracy far superior to its human counterpart but also twice as fast.
Focus on Extraction and Purification
These technologies primarily focus on the extraction, purification, separation, and preservation of cannabis plants, areas that have always been slow, costly, and waste-generating.
This area has received particular attention in terms of patents for many companies aiming to get ahead in the pharmaceutical cannabis market, leading to “significant growth in the extraction sector.”
One such development is static vapor extraction, a patented technology developed by Maratek and Boulder Creek Technologies.
This process vaporizes cannabis biomass, then cools it through thermal shock to turn it into mist, allowing the elimination of water-soluble liquids and lipids and converting the vapor into a cannabinoid-rich crude oil distillate.
Unlike ethanol or CO2 extraction, this method does not require solvents, uses less energy and space, and does not produce hazardous waste, making it both sustainable and profitable.
Downstream Pharmaceutical Cannabis Technologies
Innovations in Drug Formulation and Delivery
Significant developments are also occurring in the way cannabis-based products are composed, formulated, and delivered to treat specific medical conditions.
Many of these products and innovations are undergoing clinical trials for patents. In this area, pharmaceutical cannabis companies have significant opportunities to develop more effective administration methods, more bioavailable formulations, and more uniform dosages.
Patients and prescribers of cannabis-based medications tend to favor oral administration, which has fewer side effects than inhalation, but for many conditions, such as acute pain, the absorption rate of these products is often too low to be effective.
That’s why the industry is currently testing a number of new administration methods, including transdermal formulations, which are administered through the skin to treat underlying tissues.
Due to the high bioavailability and non-invasive nature of these formats, companies like Zynerba Pharmaceuticals have invested heavily in this space, currently holding 18 patents for transdermal cannabis-based pharmaceutical products aimed at treating conditions such as osteoarthritis and epilepsy.
Nanotechnology in Cannabis Formulations
New technologies have also enabled significant advancements in cannabis-based pharmaceutical formulations in recent years, largely thanks to the advancements in nanoparticle technology.
Cannabinoids are inherently difficult for the body to absorb, so the emergence of the use of “nanocarriers” for targeted cannabis formulations enables improvements in drug administration, solubilization, bioavailability, and the efficiency of encapsulation, while allowing for the timed release of cannabinoid APIs.
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