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Christina DiArcangelo: dedicated to revolutionising patient care

DiArcangelo entered into medical cannabis following a personal experience with a loved one. 

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Christina DiArcangelo: dedicated to revolutionising patient care

Entrepreneur and CEO Christina DiArcangelo is putting patients first in her work – championing patient care and providing best-in-class patient advocacy services.

Christina DiArcangelo’s journey into cannabis began after she was already working in the pharmaceutical industry. Having more than two decades of experience in the biotechnology, nutraceutical, and medical device industries, DiArcangelo entered into medical cannabis following a personal experience with a loved one. 

As an expert in biotechnology, DiArcangelo has now worked with a number of CBD companies and is CEO at Affinity Biopartners which conducts groundbreaking medical cannabis and cannabinoid clinical research, as well as at Affinity Patient Advocacy which assists cannabis patients with their medical cannabis journey and with legal cannabis patient advisory. Other roles include CEO at Spectral Analytics Precision Tele-Monitoring, and CEO and co-founder of AI Health Outcomes, where she has been involved with revolutionary projects and global clinical studies that positively impact patients.

“I have worked on 25 FDA-approved drugs in my career, and I have been in the cannabis and CBD clinical research space globally for the past five years,” says DiArcangelo. “I’ve worked for some very large pharmaceuticals in the space, as well as small companies that want to pursue clinical studies, whether it is a CBD company or biotech. I have helped some CBD companies who received warning letters from the FDA, because I have been in biotech for so long I understand regulations. I am proud to say an excellent relationship with the FDA, both on the traditional side as well as the medical cannabis and CBD space.”

DiArcangelo, a practising Baha’i, created Affinity Biopartners – her second clinical research organisation – which is now coming up to its six-year anniversary. Alongside its medical cannabis research, the company facilitates the development of drugs, biologics, nutraceuticals and medical devices.

“Affinity Patient Advocacy was started as a result of my father’s passing from stage four liver, lung and stomach cancers. In 2015, we did not have a medical programme in the state of Pennsylvania so I could not use medical cannabis legally to help treat my father while he was dying. So, that was interesting being his advocate, I swung in to help him because I have worked on a lot of different oncology indications throughout my career and I watched him battle cancer for relatively 22 years of his life, which was half of my life.

“So, as a result of helping him and then truly seeing with my own two eyes that there was a need for advocacy – that patients deserve a voice – and, what I love to do is design clinical studies that help patients, Affinity Patient Advocacy was started.

“This was me being able to give back to him, and carry forward his legacy because he always gave back from a labour perspective and a healthcare standpoint as he was very active as a union member. He was constantly working for people, whether it was grievance filings, trying to make sure people kept their jobs when they were unjustly accused of things. Making sure he protected his member’s rights was his number one priority, but then also ensuring that they had proper healthcare. So, you can see my foundation of where I have come from as a child growing up, and my career – serving people was very much at the forefront of my childhood into my adulthood. So for me, it was just turning the hat, not so much from a labour perspective, because I don’t work in that space, but I work with patients advocating for them, trying to help patients feel better.” 

In 2018 DiArcangelo started an AI firm, developing a toolbox of two bots that sit on Alexa and Google that can be voice-activated and utilised for clinical research purposes.

“That means we can remind people to take the drug, we can ask them questions about how they are feeling and then we can collect electronic patient-reported outcomes. So, my clinical research background and all the years that I’ve been doing this have really pushed me into the tech space so that I could help my team develop an electronic data capture system.

“I also worked on building out a telemonitoring platform – I had already had the tech side. Spectral Analytics is a holding company, and underneath we have a commercial company called Avum RX. Avum RX is the CBD line and Avum is the non-CBD. 

“The spectral analytics precision telemonitoring is what we open to do perpetual clinical research for CBD and medical cannabis patients. So, I took my tech and put it over there – why reinvent the wheel when it is working. I know how to work with central labs because of my biotech experience so that I can test patients looking at kidney and liver toxicity from a safety perspective, so I can drop down listings, and share them with the FDA, so that we are answering their requests, which is what they’ve requested in the entire industry. The FDA considers this a biologic, even though it is a plant that’s what they consider it – the only drug they have approved is Epidiolex which is synthetic.

“So, Spectral is gathering data to do perpetual clinical research and put patients’ care back into their hands. Doctors have access to the portal and we were doing gut microbiome analysis and we do cannabinoid testing to see what patients are deficient in – nobody is doing that yet. We do not know what we are deficient in, so, as somebody who is also formulating transdermal patches for Avon, how can I formulate for people if I don’t know what’s wrong with them?

“We are trying to work in the UK with our products because we have safe products, they are backed by science. I’m at the helm, formulating now with my scientific team and we have now formulated an immune boost patch. That is for autoimmune patients because I’m a patient, I have two autoimmune disorders and I wasn’t diagnosed until 18.

“The immune boost was not only developed for autoimmune people, but also palliative support for cancer, and then COVID. The patch has a lot of terpenes in it because, in my opinion, the terpenes are the healing components.”

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Product Earth CEO Matthew Clifton discusses his career in cannabis

Matthew Clifton is passionate about cannabis.

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Product Earth CEO Matthew Clifton discusses his career in cannabis

Matthew Clifton, CEO of cannabis marketing company Milk & Amber, and CEO of the UK’s largest cannabis expo, Product Earth, discusses working in the industry.

After working at Facebook, Matthew Clifton has shifted his focus to his passion for cannabis with the establishment of cannabis marketing company Milk & Amber and working as CEO of the UK’s largest hemp, CBD and cannabis, Product Earth.

What do you and your business do?

Product Earth is the UK’s largest hemp, CBD and Cannabis expo dedicated to building a safe and trustworthy industry that is good for the planet and all of those who inhabit it.

Milk & Amber is a growth marketing agency network dedicated to helping build and develop all manner of cannabis brands from lifestyle to CBD and medical. Our team boasts over 50 years’ worth of marketing experience across companies such as the Financial Times, Facebook, Bebo, Endemol and much more. 

Our network is built up of trusted partners with specific disciplines that will add value to our client base covering website and app development, content creation and production, packaging, design, PR and more.

Why did you enter this industry?

I have always been an advocate for cannabis but had never really seen a pathway, or ever considered it as an option for my career, instead spending 22 years working across a variety of companies, honing my skills across a variety of media disciplines.

Having spent 12 years at Facebook, I was lucky to have worked in a strength-based organisation that allowed me to expand my horizons and develop different skills. As head of marketing for small and medium-size businesses, in spite of spending the majority of my career working with brands like P&G, Diageo and Samsung, I got a genuine thrill out of helping small businesses grow.

My time at Facebook afforded me a number of privileges, including the ability to be able to invest in several businesses. Gavin Sathianathan, CEO of Alta Flora, had left Facebook several years before me to enter into the world of cannabis, and having heard this, I asked him to keep an eye out for opportunities for me to invest in. Gavin presented me with the opportunity of investing in Product Earth and having involved some friends, we completed an investment round and it became clear that there would be value in me not only investing in the company, but potentially moving into the role of CEO.

With Facebook being so community-focused, both internally and externally, I saw the connection between Facebook and the heavy community focus of the cannabis industry and jumped at the rare opportunity to take on a role where I was able to apply my skills to something I feel so passionately about.

It was a bumpy start though… Who would have known back in September 2019 that there was going to be a pandemic that would decimate the event industry? It got to December 2020 and everything was still looking bleak with regards to the future of the show. We wanted to do something for the agency in a time when people needed support and stimulation and our founder, James Walton, had the great idea of a “joint rolling” competition. 

We carefully navigated Facebook’s policies and created a two-part competition for speed and style rolling where people would upload videos in a bid to win some great prizes from our sponsors. The High Roller World Cup had some astonishing results, reaching 1.3 million cannabis consumers, generating over 600k video views with views costing a fraction of a penny! This was the moment we realised we should offer these brand-building type skills to the community and Milk & Amber was born. We have already had some world firsts, successfully running an awareness and acquisition campaign on Facebook for Drug Science and Project T21, and we look forward to welcoming even more brands.

How long have you been part of the industry?

I am still very much a noob, having only worked professionally in the industry for two years and it is a very steep learning curve!

How has it grown since you first started?

The Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI) and the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC) launched their report “Green Shoots – Sowing The Seeds Of The New UK Cannabis Industry”, where they size the market at £690m up a third from their 2019 forecast. The UK is the second-largest CBD market in the world. Considering the stigma, awareness and ridiculous regulations meaning that farmers are having to destroy 90 per cent of their crops, I think this is a really positive signal that many investors will have their eyes on. To say anything other than the fact that we are still very much in the grassroots stage though, would be wrong.

What do you feel are the three key developments or updates that have changed the industry?

I would say that there are two main growth factors, but these are still far from perfect.

In November 2018 medical cannabis was made legal on prescription. This has not been smooth and still has a long way to go, but this certainly shone a light on cannabis not necessarily being the devil’s lettuce that people have been trying to engrain into us over the past 50 years. We still need to improve access, efficacy & price and this is no mean feat.

In January 2019 when CBD was reclassified as a novel food, this led to bodies such as the FSA and the home office improving regulations. As with medical cannabis, this is still far from ideal. Brexit, in spite of the car crash that it continues to prove itself to be, could have provided us the opportunity to carve out our own rules, however, we still appear to need to jump through various EFSA hoops as well as our own, with an infrastructure not set up to serve this body of work. This is a costly and drawn-out process for all concerned and if you weren’t one of the lucky ones to be involved in the EIHA consortium, the start of your journey as a fledgling business is going to be difficult.

What do you think the future holds for the industry?

Growth. Celebrity endorsements are on the rise with many mainstream personalities stating their allegiance to certain brands and as the stigma breaks down CBD will quickly become a familiar sight on shelves up and down the country.

Legalisation is the big thing everyone likes to talk about and in all honesty, I have no idea when this is going to happen. You will often hear about the dichotomy between activists to capitalists and their opposing views on what the future would look like. 

I believe true success will involve large-scale grows leading to costs effective mid-quality products and more boutique, high-quality products that will serve a more affluent market as you would see across most industries. The missing piece to the puzzle is the ability to grow your own. If we want to stop feeding the black market, then we need to stop criminalising people that like growing plants. It’s crazy.

How much of the industry relies on collaboration?

We are very much a cottage industry. Yes, there are some big players with deep pockets and good luck to them, but the reality for most is they need to collaborate in order to firstly survive and then thrive. Product Earth, in spite of being seen as the UK’s largest event has relied on collaboration from a number of people including, but not limited to; Beyond the Green, PSYence fair, OEV as well as all of our exhibitors, sponsors, ambassadors and let’s not forget the community that are buying their tickets by the fist full!

This is something we have also given careful consideration to regarding Milk & Amber. By identifying key players with complimentary skills and values, we have built a network that offers our clients the ability to harness world class ability and resources at a price they can afford. We want to work with like-minded businesses with a growth mindset that want to grow with us. What’s more, I look forward to building a new type of company without toxicity and prejudice that allows employees and clients alike to thrive.

Who is your main inspiration in business and why?

I find inspiration everywhere. My team inspires me. My friends inspire me. My family inspire me. I have a positive mindset and the more I work on this, the more I notice the positivity and creativity around me.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given in business?

Sheryl Sandberg once made a speech about the say/do gap. If you say you’re going to do something then do it. The smaller that gap is, the more trust you will build. People want to work with people they can depend on. It is much better to be upfront about limitations rather than building a false sense of security and letting people down.

A mantra that I live my life by is that “vulnerability is the fuel for growth”. I truly believe this. There are things we do that scare us, whether we show it or not. The thing is, the more we do something that scares us, the less scary It becomes and you grow as an individual. When you start to realise that fear is the first feeling on a pathway to growth, you will start putting yourself forward for more opportunities and you will find yourself on an amazing trajectory towards success.

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Youngest member elected to European Industrial Hemp Association board

Florian Pichlmaier has been elected to the EIHA board as the youngest member since its foundation.

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Youngest member elected to European Industrial Hemp Association board

Founder and managing director of the hemp wholesaler, Signature Products, Florian Pichlmaier, has been elected as a board member of the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA).

Pichlmaier will be supporting the EIHA board with his many years of experience and his network from the financial and food industry, and will take a stand for more acceptance of hemp products. Pichlmaier is now the seventh and youngest member of the EIHA board.

The EIHA is the only pan-European organisation representing the opinions and interests of its more than 200 members at EU level. 

Thanks to his many years of experience, Pichlmaier brings with him a large network of contacts to influential personalities from these sectors. In Belgium, Pichlmaier worked for the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2016 and conducted negotiations with political actors of the EU Commission. 

With the aim of offering hemp products of the highest quality, Pichlmaier founded Signature Products GmbH together with his partner Tobias Bühler in 2019. The company positions itself on the market as an independent hemp wholesaler and manufacturer of private label hemp-based products. 

Pichlmaier now wants to make use of his experience in lobbying and actively support the EIHA in the future, and is looking forward to “closer cooperation and the implementation of the common goals”.

Pichlmaier says he also wants to campaign for more acceptance of hemp products, and so he launched the regional research project TASTINO together with the University of Hohenheim this year. In cooperation with German farmers, his company will plant and harvest hemp seeds in Baden-Württemberg and produce protein-rich meat substitute products which will soon be available in German supermarkets.

The EIHA’s activities are guided by the principle of “social, environmental and economic sustainability”. Currently, the organisation is working on the standardisation of THC limits in animal feed and food, the positive effect of hemp on the CO2 balance and a life cycle assessment of hemp materials.

Florian Pichlmaier

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Melissa Sturgess: “You can’t change the rules standing on the sidelines”

CEO of Ananda Developments, Melissa Sturgess, discusses how she is taking on the cannabis industry.

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Melissa Sturgess: “You can’t change the rules standing on the sidelines”

The CEO of Ananda Developments, Melissa Sturgess, tells Sarah Sinclair how a 25-year career in precious metals has set her up to take on the cannabis industry.

Melissa Sturgess knows that success comes when we’re outside of our comfort zone.

“The world is not a safe space, you have to get into an unsafe space and be prepared to take risks in order to make leaps,” the CEO tells me over Zoom from St Tropez, France.

Sturgess is on holiday, but still working she insists, when we speak. Our conversation taking place just weeks after Ananda Developments announced it had been granted a Home Office licence to grow high THC medical cannabis for research purposes.

“If you’re not in the room you’re not in the deal,” she continues. “You have to work out where the power is and go there. If men have the power, you need to get male mentors.”

She is used to being the only woman in the room. Coming from a background in metals and mining equity capital markets, she was the only female chief executive of a publicly quoted company for more or less her whole career.

Born and bred in Perth, Western Australia, Sturgess studied statistics and psychology and worked in corporate finance until her late 20s. Then she met a group of entrepreneurs who were putting mining deals together on the African continent and “fell into” the fast-moving, high-capital sector.

“I never really knew what I wanted to do, I sort of fell into it but found that I loved it,” she admits.

“I got lucky because I was working with a group of guys who were very entrepreneurial and very successful.”

She spent several years moving between continents, living in Perth and orchestrating deals out of Johannesburg, before travelling to London to raise the money and list on the stock exchange.

Over the last 25 years Sturgess has got countless deals over the line, in gold, diamonds, coal and other precious gemstones, operating in complex jurisdictions such as Zambia, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

“I gained a lot of experience operating with complex deals and raising a lot of money as a director of publicly quoted companies,” she says.

“When I started in the mining space it was completely male dominated. The guys used to say to me ‘suck it up princess’. Complaining was not an option – if you complained, you just got left out.

“The approach I’ve always taken is that business is business. It’s a game and there are rules. You learn to play by the rules and when you win you have the power to change the rules.”

She adds: “I think that there are a lot of men who don’t really like the rules either, but they still have to play by them. My gender was just one of many issues, they are going to pick on any kind of weakness and saying that you wanted things to change wasn’t going to change anything.”

Her opportunistic nature came into its own when she moved to London in 2017 after a slump in the metals market and read an article in the Financial Times about a medical cannabis conference in the capital. Soon afterwards she was on a plane to Israel to meet the organiser of the conference and learn everything she could about medical cannabis.

“I went from being opportunistic about it, to thinking actually this is really fascinating and this is going to be more than just a deal, it’s something that I’m going to get really immersed in,” she says.

Through Ananda Developments, a listed company, with shares traded on London’s AQUIS Stock Exchange, she made a few small investments in the space. Production was never on the cards until she was introduced to growers who had produced medical cannabis for GW Pharmaceuticals as part of their trials for Epidyolex trials.

“We had never been interested in growing before, as we thought it was going to be a really commoditized area of the cannabis space. But when you meet guys who have done it successfully and have these amazing insights into growing medicinal cannabis cost-effectively, and in UK conditions, it’s actually pretty incredible,” she says.

Over the next two years the team put together what Sturgess describes as a “meaty” research programme and applied to the Home Office.

The process was “rigorous” she says, but “so it should be” and her experience applying for exploration licenses across the world stood her in good stead.

“Working with licencing that is in the gift of a government, in complex situations is certainly something I have done a lot of,” she says.

“You go out and do your exploration work, you show the government that you are good corporate citizens, that you run an operation that is legal and rigorous and that employs local people.”

The £300,000 purpose-built facility in Lincolnshire will see Ananda’s subsidiary, DJT Plants, grow 65 strains of high THC cannabis for use in large-scale research, focusing on the conditions for which cannabis products are being prescribed in the UK.

Subject to further Home Office licensing, the plan is to move to commercial growing, with the aim of supplying high-quality and consistent products to UK patients, as well as exporting to Europe.

“There’s increasing demand in the UK, but all the material we currently have is imported and quality and consistency seems to be variable. Our aim is to have our own unique strains that will be suitable for the indications that are being treated in the UK, and will be plants or chemovars that thrive in UK conditions,” says Sturgess.

The facility will use the UK’s natural growing season, during which its greenhouses will benefit from long hours of light and the right temperature to avoid having to rely on artificial light and heat. Its material will then be sent to Israel for cannabinoid and terpene analysis.

Sturgess explains: “When you grow under artificial conditions, the power that is consumed is astronomical, so whilst we talk about this natural product we’re ignoring the fact that actually it can be really damaging.

“Patients and prescribing doctors will know they are getting a UK product, which hasn’t travelled very far, meaning it’s probably going to be fresher and hasn’t chewed up power or transportation costs coming from the other side of the world.”

Meeting campaigners and patient advocates in the space over the last few years, including Hannah Deacon, the mother of Alfie Dingley, the first UK patient to be issued an NHS prescription for medical cannabis, Sturgess has seen the need for producing a consistent and high quality product for UK patients.

“Having met Hannah three years ago, shesits on my shoulder virtually the whole time,” she says.

“All I think about is that we should be providing medicinal cannabis in the UK for people like Hannah, who need it for their kids or for themselves or their friends, family, loved ones.”

Despite being the driving force of the industry, Sturgess fears that when capital gets tight it’s these advocacy roles which will disappear as larger companies swallow up the space.

“Women will say to me that they find it hard because the industry is so male dominated, but I don’t feel that because of where I have come from. However, what I observed in the early days, certainly in North America and Canada, was a lot of women in the grassroots and advocacy roles. As the industry matures you get the bigger companies coming in, and it tends to be mainly men running those companies,” she says.

“Women can do themselves a disservice when they portray the caring side so much. They tend to think that if they work really hard, someone will offer them a pay rise, or
if they volunteer, someone will offer to pay them. But it’s about knowing your worth
and putting a price on things.

“When you get to the business side of things, it’s about money and if you want to make money for shareholders it becomes really competitive. There’s only so much money out there, so people are often competing for the same pool of capital.”

But Sturgess has played the game for a while now, and is in prime position to help change the rules.

“I want to encourage [women] not to stand back and wait to be noticed,” she adds.

“You’re not going to change the rules of basketball by standing on the sidelines, you’re going to change the rules by getting in there, playing the game and becoming a respected player.”

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