Thursday, April 06, 2006

Medical marijuana hits stock market

The Toronto Star

It's not every company that heralds its public debut with Moses Znaimer, the co-founder of CityTV, on one side and a bag of marijuana from the Canadian government on the other.

But that's exactly how Cannasat Therapeutics Inc. did it yesterday.

Cannasat bills itself as one of a handful of companies in the world that is researching and developing medicines derived from cannabis plants.

Executives acknowledged at a media conference that the fledgling firm faces an uphill battle on many fronts — from the enormous cost and risk involved in developing new drugs to fighting a social stigma that conjures up images of police officers on pot busts pulling up rows of tall green plants and stoned teenagers getting "the munchies."

"Does it give you a buzz?" a reporter asked at one point.

"This is not about fun. It's about function," said a stern Znaimer, who serves as chairman of Cannasat's board of directors. "This is not marijuana that people come to because they're looking for a good time."

Shares of Cannasat, whose symbol is "CTH", closed at 40 cents on the TSX Toronto Venture Exchange yesterday, up 15 cents from the day before. The stock has been trading on the junior exchange for about a week.

Today marks the kickoff of a promotional campaign by Cannasat that's meant to raise awareness about Health Canada's Marihuana Medical Access Regulations or MMAR. The three-year-old program allows people who suffer from cancer, HIV or AIDS, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries, among other conditions, to purchase cannabis from the government.

Users say the drug — possession of which is technically illegal — works wonders in alleviating pain, insomnia, loss of appetite, often more effectively than doctor-prescribed pharmaceuticals, and with fewer side effects.

About 1,100 people have registered for the government program to date, but that's believed to be a tiny fraction of medical marijuana users.

Cannasat holds a stake in Prairie Plant Systems, the country's only legal medical marijuana grower and distributor, which operates under Health Canada's regulations.

The company has raised about $6.5 million through private financing in the last two years. About half of that has since been spent on research and development at its laboratory in Edmonton. The focus of its work is coming up with effective drug-delivery systems. Aside from being smoked, marijuana can be absorbed through the skin, swallowed or inhaled in a nasal spray.

Company officials were tight-lipped about the content of their patents and where they have been filed.

"It's becoming a very competitive arena," chief executive David Hill said. Its rivals include U.K.-based GW Pharmaceuticals, makers of Sativex, an oral spray approved in Canada for treatment of MS-related pain.

Cannasat is still about 18 months away from clinical trials on people, and five years or so away from bringing products to the market, said Umar Syed, vice-president scientific and strategic affairs. "Realistically we would probably need another $10 million to $15 million in the next two to three years to get us there."

It hopes to eventually find a partner in a big pharmaceutical company that could handle marketing and distribution.

"We're still just used to thinking of marijuana as an illicit drug. It's been really robbed of its medical benefits," said Sara Lee Irwin, Cannasat's director of public relations.

She's also a licensed MMAR user. Irwin was just 32 years old when she was diagnosed with cancer in her pelvis and hip. For many of the 17 years since, she used powerful painkillers Percodan and Tylene 3, as well as Vioxx, the arthritis drug recently pulled off the market after reports that it can increase the risk of heart attack.

The drugs upset her stomach and she worried about long-term effects. She turned to marijuana about two-and-a-half years ago.

Irwin now gets a monthly supply delivered to her home in a gold bag for $5 a gram, a cost that she can claim as a medical expense on her income tax return.

"Pain sort of sits right here and it erodes everything in your life," Lee said in an interview, holding her hands directly in front of her face.

"(The marijuana) just moves it off-centre. It's not a big gnawing, raw sore in the middle of your face. It's good to have just an awareness of it there, and it doesn't overwhelm you."

Znaimer, considered a television pioneer, takes credit for planting the seeds for the company.

For years, he watched friends who struggled with inflammatory bowel disease find relief using marijuana that they didn't get from their prescribed medications.

He had also heard about new research that suggested cannabis plants may one day form a whole new class of pharmaceutical drugs.

"I mentioned it to some other guys I know who are in the venture capital business. They're always saying, `Hey Mose, what's the next new thing?'" Znaimer said in an interview. "One thing leads to another."

Canada is one of the few countries in the world where researchers can access legally grown marijuana for research purposes, Znaimer pointed out.


Anonymous Lynn said...

Moses Znaimer has always been a visionary. I worked for him back in the seventies, when he started Toronto’s CITY-TV by hiring a whole bunch of us film and TV students from Ryerson and paid us peanuts. But we started a country-wide trend, including MuchMusic, and brought the concept of VJ’s to Canada.

Now he’s branched out into medicinal marijuana, and more power to him. Even though he wasn’t an easy man to work for, I hold no grudges. I went on to a lucrative career in the motion picture production industry, then five years ago I got tired of the four am set calls and sixteen-hour days, so I decided to make a living from my other avocation—computer graphics.

The reason that the launch of Cannasat Therapeutics personally effects me, is that at the advanced age of fifty-five, instead of freedom, I find myself with a debilitating digestive illness called Chron’s Disease. Since I quit smoking years ago, starting to smoke pot to alleviate the pain and discomfort of this insidious disease didn’t appeal to me. So I looked around for alternatives.

Let’s backtrack—none of the conventional medicines for Chron’s worked for me, they all had acute side effects. Finally, my doctor, a long-time Lesbian socialist, advised me that since the government of Canada allows doctors to prescribe medpot of registered users, I should register with the federal government. This I did, and I began to receive regular shipments of small quantities of pot from the feds.

The quality of this weed is inferior at best. It’s not as bad as the schwag sent out by the U.S. government to the seven remaining IND patients (the compassionate Investigation New Drug program of the Food and Drug Administration, started under President Jimmy Carter), but still it wasn’t powerful enough for me. Especially, since I refused to smoke it and used a vapourizer to ingest my THC.

So a friend suggested that I grow my own. He even offered to help me. He guided me to a great website, which not only gave detailed advice but provided us with products necessary to grow outstanding pot plants that have much more wallop than the government weed.

Since I live in an old house in Toronto, with the back garden taken up by a large deck, I decided to grow the plants indoors. Also, it’s much more secure this way. So I transformed a small room off the basement rec room into a bona fide grow op. Now I know that this word has totally negative connotations, thanks to media and government brainwashing, but I like it. And since I only grow 8 plants per cycle, I am well within the law.

I had some investments that I cashed in and we bought two four-bucket hydroponic systems, which fit side by side in the 12 by 12 room. Two 600W High Pressure Sodium lamps provide enough light to grow four plants each comfortably, and Advanced Nutrients Medical also suggested a CO2 generator to increase bud yield.

For plant nourishment, they guided us to Iguana Juice Grow and Iguana Juice Bloom, a 100 % organic fish-based fertilizer. Since my bowels are super sensitive, I couldn’t see myself feeding my plants harsh chemicals, especially since I was going to ingest them.

They also suggested using SensiZym, a super concentrate of over 80 different enzymes, that’s also guaranteed 100 % organically pure. This is a plant and root growth enhancer, and I’ve been using it for the past three years. It works.

The idea of the cannabis patch intrigues me, but I think I like the taste of my buds, which come through loud and clear, even in the vapourizer. The aroma of my grow op would attract curious intruders, were it not for the carbon filters on my ventilation system.

Maybe with the money I earn from my next big computer graphics contract, I’ll buy some shares of Znaimer’s company. Who knows, it might hit it big!

4/19/2006 04:40:00 AM  
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Vermonters with certain chronic illnesses can now use medical marijuana. The legislature passed the new medical marijuana law this year and the program started Friday. So far, only thirty people have asked for applications from the department of public safety, none have been sent in yet. Officials expect more people will apply as the program gets underway.

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3/28/2007 10:42:00 AM  

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