Cultured Cannabinoids

Cannabis is a fascinating and rapidly growing industry, predicted to reach $57 billion worldwide by 2027. As legalization spreads, so too does our understanding of the potential benefits of the many different molecules present in the plant.

Beyond the better known THC and CBD, cannabinoids present in tiny quantities in the plant have the potential to be valuable in a range of pharmaceutical applications. Ongoing research has shown potential medicinal uses for indications such as chronic pain, nervous disorders, nausea, weight loss, and some mental illnesses.

But to unlock the value of these molecules, we first need to be able to access them. Today we’re announcing a partnership with Toronto-based Cronos Group to produce a range of different cannabinoid molecules through fermentation of engineered yeasts. It’s a large-scale and long-term deal, involving up to $22M for R&D along with a total of up to $100 million worth of Cronos common shares upon achieving pilot commercial scale.

The Science:
There are hundreds of different cannabinoids produced by different varietals of the plant. Long term breeding has led to strains that produce large amounts of THC(A) and CBD(A) (the A stands for acid, a different chemical form that is converted to THC and CBD when heated) but other molecules such as CBC, CBG, and THCV are present only in trace amounts, meaning that they are impractical or impossible to extract and purify from the plant. Without a cost effective supply, research into the pharmaceutical properties of these molecules has also been hampered. THCV, for example, has been shown at low doses to offer relief from anxiety without the appetite stimulating effects of THC, but so much is still unknown.

By transferring the DNA sequences for cannabinoid production into yeast, using the foundry and our existing high-throughput fermentation processes, we’ll work to construct strains that produce a range of different cannabinoids at high quality and purity, identical to those extracted from the plant with traditional methods. By capitalizing on the power of biological manufacturing, we can unlock access to medically important cannabinoids that can be scaled up and produced reliably.

An engineer works with an automated bioreactor system in Ginkgo's foundry

Why Cronos:
We’re so excited to be working with the Cronos Group on this landmark partnership. Cronos, based in Canada and with a presence across four continents, is a vertically integrated cannabis company that operates two licensed producers regulated under Health Canada’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations. Cronos, with access to an array of varietals and a deep expertise in plant genetics, has gathered extensive data on cannabinoids and their properties. This allows them to generate the best recipes for the full spectrum of cannabinoids, not just the most common ones.

We’ll be working to develop strains of yeast that can produce eight different cannabinoids. All the R&D work we’ll be doing at Ginkgo will of course be conducted in compliance with all U.S. federal laws regarding controlled substances, and we’re currently waiting for approval from from Federal and State agencies. Cronos Group intends to produce and distribute the cultured cannabinoids that result from our partnership globally, and has received confirmation that this method of production is permitted under the Cannabis Act—the legal framework that will regulate cannabis in Canada.

Cronos Group

As Ginkgo has grown, we’ve seen the power of biological engineering and fermentation to unlock the potential of a huge variety of molecules in several industries, from flavor and fragrance to pharmaceuticals. We’re thrilled to be working with Cronos as they build the world’s most innovative cannabinoid platform to bring these products to life.

For more, check out this article by Kristine Owram at Bloomberg: “Cronos Partners With Ginkgo to Develop Lab-Grown Cannabis”

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Cultured Cannabinoids image at the top of the post by Karen Ingram.

Posted By: Jason Kelly