The legalization of cannabis in Canada has heightened the need to understand more about this once forbidden plant. But after decades of prohibition, only a small amount of research is available compared to other botanicals, and researchers still have a way to go to fully understand how exactly cannabis interacts with the chemistry and physiology of the brain, as well as adverse events related to individual genetic variability.
British Columbia is already poised to be a leader in cannabis research with industry leading experts such as Dr. Jonathan Page, who with his team was the first to sequence the cannabis genome, right here in BC. Page co-founded Anandia Laboratories Inc. (Anandia) with chemist Dr. John Coleman on the UBC campus, and the company has since emerged as a world-leading company for testing cannabis produced by other growers. Anandia was voted the top lab amongst the 55 authorized testing facilities in Canada. Consumer safety is the priority, including testing of cannabis products for accurate potency and to ensure they are free of contaminants such as pesticides, as required by federal regulations before going to market.
“Anandia’s goal is to foster a scientific understanding of the cannabis plant for the benefit of all cultivators, patients, and consumers.”
Page’s work has also provided deep insights into the biosynthesis of cannabinoids (the naturally occurring psychoactive chemicals in the cannabis plant) and their interplay with terpenes (the aromatic metabolites found in the oils of all plants). As a result, Anandia now holds intellectual property with significant commercial value that can be applied toward highly specialized product development while helping guide and support cannabis regulation as it evolves in Canada.
The budding startup was acquired by Aurora Cannabis Inc. in 2018 for approximately $115 million. Aurora, with funded capacity in excess of 570,000 kg per year and sales and operations in 14 countries across five continents, is one of the world’s largest cannabis companies. Page also has taken on the role of Chief Science Officer at Aurora, overseeing all science related projects while John Coleman will take over as President at Anandia.
Genome BC has supported cannabis research through “made in BC” initiatives such as the Industry Innovation(I2) and the Sector Innovation Programs. Genome BC made its first investment in Anandia in September of 2016. This investment was used to aggressively expand Anandia’s analytical testing services, a critical service to ensure product safety meeting regulatory standards.
In August 2017, Genome BC further invested in a project to support the identification of high-value genetic traits enabling the commercialization of optimized cannabis varieties. Access to well-defined cannabis varieties, with supporting scientific information on their select traits, is a major issue for the industry. In collaboration with renowned genomics expert Dr. Joerg Bohlmann, a Professor in UBC’s Michael Smith Laboratories, Anandia is developing new ways to identify and reference the genes that produce select types of cannabis with optimized medical properties. Patients will benefit from being able to access standardized cannabis products. In the future, non-medical cannabis will also be differentiated through specific characteristics.
Anandia aims to help the cannabis industry become more credible through science-driven research, and in the process build a valuable company that is a cornerstone of this new industry. Their focus on the science of cannabis is helping expand our collective understanding of the plant while ensuring consumers have access to safe products in a newly regulated environment.