A cooperation agreement has been signed with an Australian medical cannabis investment fund.
Nextar, founded and managed by CEO Dr. Orna Dreazen, has developed 70 drug formulations to date for most of Israel’s leading pharma companies. The idea of entering the medical cannabis field originated in a meeting between Nextar and medical cannabis entrepreneur and Weizmann Institute of Science graduate Dr. Yaron Penn, who was looking for a service company in order to shorten the process of reaching the cannabis market with an independent initiative. At the meeting the parties realized that the process could be suitable for additional startups in the field. The incubator was born, and Penn joined Nextar as chief scientist.
Permission to export cannabis from Israel was recently granted, and in principle, the procedures developed in the Nextar incubator can be sent to any country in the world to which the material can be imported. There is currently only one company in the world serving the international market – a Dutch company with a large center in Canada.
The cannabis market reform, which is scheduled to go into effect soon, divides the field into two types of players. One is the growers and the other is the manufacturers, who extract and package the material. The material is sent for laboratory tests. Abraham Dreazen, Orna Dreazen’s son, who will manage the development center, says, “We met with the Ministry of Health Medical Cannabis Unit, and together we realized that they had skipped over a category – development. The product goes from the plant to the patient, but does not really undergo development as a drug. Companies go to the Medical Cannabis Unit wanting to develop. There is innovation, desire, and ambition, but these are startups with no knowledge of how to approach the medical market.”
Abraham Dreazen adds, “The Ministry of Health doesn’t want everyone calling himself a startup for research in the field to get a license for medical cannabis. It’s convenient for them to have another party like us between the startup and the market, so that the innovation doesn’t get wasted, but there is nonetheless supervision. Every such startup will still have to get an independent cannabis research license, but it will have a home where it can conduct the research. We believe that this will make it easier for the Medical Cannabis Unit to grant the license.”
Penn: “As someone who has dealt in restricted materials in higher education and startups, I can say that this is a real problem. It makes anyone nervous to know that there’s a drug in the laboratory for which he’s responsible.”
Orna Dreazen: “We know how to work with materials that are hazardous or restricted. We have worked with drugs based on opiates and with Ritalin, which is subject to legal regulation and supervision, and we also know how to handle toxic materials, such as those used in chemotherapy.”
Orna Dreazen emphasizes that all the products from the incubator and Nextar itself will be of medical quality. “We’re not packaging flowers for the leisure industry now,” she says. “We come from a world of quality and drugs. We’re interested in making a controlled reproducible product.” The question of reproducibility is one of the most important issues in the cannabis field today. Orna Dreazen says, “Cannabis is a botanical extract – a plant extract. In order to understand the complexity, imagine that when each of us makes tea, he’s making a botanical extract, but one person pours boiling water and another one pours lukewarm water, and one stirs it and another doesn’t, so there are differences in the tea.”
The same thing is true for cannabis. It is known that two dosages of cannabis, even from the same plant, are not identical. This makes it hard for doctors to prescribe the drug, because they are not confident in their ability to give a precise dose. Orna Dreazen puts it like this: “We want to at least obtain a list of the most important molecules with a list of their desirable dosages (a monograph). Every drug has a monograph. In a conventional chemical drug, there’s one ingredient, but there are more in botanical drugs. There can be up to 1,000 ingredients in cannabis.”
Nextar was an essential partner in the development of many of the formulations of drugs developed in Israel. It was a very active partner in the development of the formulation of NeuoDerm, which was acquired for $1.1 billion, mainly because of its unique formulation for a known drug for the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.