Piauhy Labs, a company producing personalised medicine at the crossroad of biotechnology, neuroscience and medical cannabis, is opening a new research facility at Biocant Park in Cantanhede, Portugal.
Piauhy Labs received its pre-license from Infarmed, the Portuguese pharmaceutical regulatory agency, in 2020, and has since submitted a request for an R&D licence for controlled substances, which will pave the way for pharmaceutical developments at its new research centre in Biocant Park.
The company is aiming to conduct research into cannabis to develop effective treatments for different conditions through identifying potential therapeutic compounds extracted from the plant. The company will be using gas chromatography and high-performance liquid chromatography equipment to achieve this aim, and will study the efficacy of the compounds for the treatment of diseases such as autism, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease.
“Some of the research protocols that we have deal with the plant – growing and extracting oils, and the other half of our research protocols that we have, they don’t have anything to do with the plant, per se. We are a medical cannabis company in the sense that we’re targeting the endocannabinoid system, and, by targeting or by manipulating we can address certain diseases,” says CEO Eduardo Sampaio. “So, we are targeting the endocannabinoid system by using the plant and its derivatives, with other techniques.”
The company’s research could reveal the therapeutic potential of many of the cannabinoids in the plant – however, as some are only present in very low amounts, it can be difficult to extract them at scale.
To tackle this, Piauhy Labs will be using sugar cane. It will introduce the cannabinoid genes into the genome of cells to produce them from primary sugars. The company says this process will be conducted on a large scale, resulting in the production of materials that can be processed into purified cannabinoids and used for therapeutic purposes.
“One of the research protocols that we have, which we have labeled as the biosynthesis R&D protocol, in this context means that we are going to take a certain micro organism, such as a bacteria, and manipulate the DNA of that microorganism. If we do this, we are going to instruct the DNA of that microorganism to start producing cannabinoids.
“There are three major advantages to this. Firstly: speed, as cannabis plants in general take about 14 weeks to grow through to harvest – the fermenting process can take about two to three days. Two, we are going to be able to increase our production capacity in a very fast way – we are not talking about building a building for indoor cultivation, or harvesting and building greenhouses, we are talking about bio reactors and fermentation tanks, so it is a very easy process to scale up or down.
“And the thirdly, and most importantly, it is because one of our deepest beliefs is that there is going to be a growing need, and understanding, of the role of minor cannabinoids in treating certain diseases. This is a very deep belief that we have in our company that in the not so far future, a lot of diseases will be treated by a combination of cannabinoids, and they may have, or may not have, THC and CBD.
“We are pursuing this investigation protocol because we want to have the ability to produce minor cannabinoids in a better, more efficient manner than the plant.
“We have chosen to focus on diseases which are derived from the central nervous system, such as the four major neurodegenerative diseases – so, our focus as a company is to know what diseases from the central nervous system can be treated by medical cannabis.”
Sampaio says its new research lab could lead to establishing partnerships with biotech companies for research relating to the study of monoclonal antibodies for the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease.
“Monoclonal antibodies are something that have became a bit more popular after COVID-19 because some of the vaccines developed for COVID are based on that. In this context, we are talking about the development of a certain protein. So, we are manufacturing proteins with a certain ability to aid the treatment of a certain disease. We produce a protein that will connect to the CB2 receptor, and by doing this we estimate that we can control inflammatory responses of the CB2 system.
“The interest in this area arises from advanced studies which suggest that unregulated inflammatory cascades may be involved in the origin and development of the disease, as well as conclusive studies that show that CB2, a receptor of the endocannabinoid system, plays a significant role in the modulation of inflammatory cascades.
“I think is the first time someone is trying to do this,” concluded Sampaio.
Could hemp be the answer to water pollution?
Hemp4Water in Florida uses historic solutions to answer a modern pollution problem
Cannabis Wealth speaks to Steve Edmonds, founder of the Hemp4Water Project about water pollution, biomass and how hemp may save our seas
When we think of hemp as a bioaccumulative plant, we often think of its use on polluted land or carbon in the air. But planting hemp may have even more uses than those on dry land. An initiative in Florida is using traditional ideas around hemp to clear local polluted waters.
Steve Edmonds established Hemp4Water in 2013 with a view to cleaning local Florida rivers and lakes of toxic pollution. That summer, an overflowing Lake Okeechobee, gallons of dumped pollution and rain flowed into the region’s rivers. This sparked a dangerous increase in toxic algae blooms.
“In the last century, decisions have been made to turn the natural ecosystem into a giant sewer system where everything flows into the basins, into the rivers and then into the lake. When that gets too much to deal with, they pump it into the sea,’ Steve said.
He added: “It’s a way to deal with the pollution. It’s a horrible idea and quite impactful on the environment.”
The resulting algae bloom contained Cyanobacteria. This bacteria can produce neuro and liver toxins that are poisonous to nearly all livestock, wildlife and humans. Several people became ill and some died have died from the outbreak.
As part of their research into how to counteract the algae, the research team examined historic solutions for sewer systems such as the Aztecs or Mayans.
“Our organisation was split around what could be done. The root of the problem was the algae which is full of nitrogen and phosphorus. We thought if we could do something about both of these then we could at least reduce the algae blooms which are causing the damage,” Steve explained.
“The idea comes from ancient civilisations. We did our research into aquaponics to see what was out there. We discovered that several civilisations used aquaponics around their septic systems to clean up problematic areas. They all floated different crops on islands of marshlands so we mimicked that and ran with it.”
Hemp mats on the water
The project idea was to establish ‘mats’ where hemp could be grown and added to the lakes. The roots of the plant underwater are able to absorb the nitrogen. Meanwhile, the parts of the plant above water are able to absorb carbon from the air.
Steve said: “We need surface areas that are spread sporadically across the lake. After about a year, roughly 30 plants per mat with enough mats equal to a square acre would pull out around 7 million pounds of nitrogen and 960,000 pounds of phosphorus. That’s about the same amount of nutrients being added to the lake each year. If we can put a kilometre in then we can take one or two out to take care of the problem and start to work on the legacy pollution that is already there.”
The technology belongs to a company called Bio haven. Its team can manufacture the maps to any specification or configuration that the project needs. This currently works out to hold roughly 30 plants each at a cost of $500. Each mat then needs to be shipped to Florida, or the other cities taking part, which also costs hundreds.
Although the project has now scaled up to include Louisiana and Michigan, the team are hoping for more funding to expand even further. But as every non-profit knows, funding, especially post-Covid, can be difficult.
Steve said: “Finding funding is extremely tenuous. A lot of grants and public funding really turn their noses away when you say cannabis or hemp. Even though we are working on all these laws and people don’t see it as taboo anymore, most of the bureaucrats don’t want to know. It’s been a challenge in that respect as we live on donations.”
The mats also create the opportunity for biomass fuels too. Greener energy is under the spotlight at the moment due to a global energy crisis and also, a worldwide commitment to reducing carbon footprints by 2050. The hemp mats could provide a valuable source of biomass through harvesting.
“Once the mats are installed, they need to be replaced every second year by harvesting. With our programme, you have islands that are protected from wildlife. We harvest it out and replace it with new clones. We are going to put clones in with six to twelve inches of good root balls that are ready to go
We should be cycling out every three months which is going to create a lot of biomass. The great thing about this plant is that it can be used for a whole host of things including fertiliser, building materials or even textiles. You pull mature plants out, put young plants in then you keep that growth cycle going while supporting the markets that severely need it,” Steve said.
Could hemp be the answer to UK energy crisis?
Government funding aims to provide new biomass options for energy including hemp production
The government has opened funding for £26 million for innovative projects aimed at increasing the UK production of sustainable biomass.
The funding will support the development of innovative new solutions of which, hemp is listed as an option. It is hoped that it will allow researchers to develop sustainable biomass to power homes and businesses. It is one way in which the government is attempting to handle the current energy crisis and achieve carbon targets in the UK.
Projects chosen for the funding will help to drive biomass productive and sustainable alternatives in the UK through the breeding, planting, cultivating and harvesting of organic matter such as hemp, algae or whole trees. Projects originally selected during the first phase of funding will be able to apply for more to expand their projects further.
Each bid will be able to apply for up to £4 million or up to £5 million for those spread across multiple locations. Start-ups and family-run businesses will eligible to apply alongside research institutes and universities. Twenty-five projects have already been selected as part of phase one but under phase 2, they will be able to develop from the design stage to full demonstration projects.
Energy and climate change minister Greg Hands said: “Developing greener fuels like biomass is key to helping the UK slash carbon emissions and drive down costs for consumers. This £26 million government investment will support innovators across the UK, boosting jobs and investment, and help ensure we have the homegrown supply we need to support our plans to build back greener and tackle climate change.”
As a result of the energy crisis, the biomass market is set to rise dramatically. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predict that it could increase as much as 28 per cent by 2026 especially due to Covid-recovery.
Biomass is renewable organic material that comes from either plants or animals. It can be used for low carbon energy and it is a key part of the government’s plan for tackling climate change. Some of the materials also being considered are seaweed and grasses. Biomass is also backed by the independent Climate Change Committee.
It comes as the government face increasing pressure to tackle the energy crisis and fuel poverty facing the UK. Energy prices soared causing a surge in ‘fuel poverty‘ among homes in the UK. A government report released in July 2021 revealed that 2.5 million homes are currently experiencing poverty as a result of rising gas prices and subsequent bill increases.
Around nine in ten British homes rely on a gas boiler to heat their homes. Gas as a fossil fuel releases carbon into the air which contributes to climate change. One solution proposed has been a gas boiler ban which should see all homes replace their current units with sustainable versions.
York University funding
The University of York and the Biorenewables Development Centre (BDC) received over £190,000 for a project examining hemp as a biomass option and also increasing its capabilities as a crop through breeding.
HEMP-30 was one of 24 projects awarded the funding in a previous round. The ten-year project addresses changing the production and utilisation of industrial hemp as a biorefinery crop.
As part of the project, the University researchers will be examining molecular plant breeding technology with a view to enhancing the traits of hemp plants for developing markets. It will also boost the amount of hemp grown in the UK from 800 hectares to 80,000 making it a major crop.
Some of the projects supported under Phase 1 included producing algae using wastewater from breweries and dairy industries, seaweed farming in North Yorkshire and increasing the planting and harvesting of willow.
Professor Ian Graham from the University’s Department of Biology said the project confirms York’s commitment to supporting the shift from oil-based to bio-based products.
He said: “The HEMP-30 project is an outstanding example of that translation from the lab to bio-based applications, opening up new markets for farmers, supporting the development of high value, skilled jobs while addressing the need for low carbon industrial products.”
Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies signs drug development programme
The company has signed a new agreement with Oxford-based StemTech.
Under the agreement, StemTech will provide Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies Holdings (OCTP) with state-of-the-art early-stage research and development data support.
OCTP, the holding company of Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies Ltd (OCT), has entered into an agreement with StemTech, which will be providing support across all four of OCTP’s drug development programmes. In particular, it will be proving support for Programmes 3 and 4 which target pain, neurology and inflammation.
StemTech has developed an innovative “pain-in-a-dish” model which replicates human pain and supports compound screening and mechanistic studies.
By using StemTech’s multi-electrode array technology (MEA), OCT can measure whether compounds in its library can reduce the “fire” rate of the neuron in real-time and identify potential drugs to treat pain. StemTech will also screen OCT’s drug library, including the library recently licensed from Canopy Growth Corporation, for compounds that can ‘switch off’ inflammation at the cellular level.
OCT chief executive, Dr John Lucas, commented: “This exciting technology is delivered by a trusted partner. It is a natural evolution from the research collaboration agreement between OCT and Oxford University and is testament to the scientific excellence of its pain research project, led by Professor Zameel Cader.”
Dr Zameel Cader, associate professor of clinical neurosciences at the University of Oxford and director and co-founder of StemTech, added: “We are very glad to be working with OCT to support the development of multiple programmes.
“StemTech has developed a new method that reduces the cost and increases the scale of reprogramming pluripotent stem cells from healthy volunteers and patients. This innovative approach allows us to develop in vitro human disease models for translational research.
“We are delighted that OCT has chosen StemTech as their partner of choice in their efforts to become the global leader in developing cannabinoid-based prescription medicines in pain and neurological disorders.”