Eyeing North Bay as its new Canadian headquarters, the head of U.S. hemp company Apothio says a new collaboration with Canadore College could become a game-changer in cannabinoid research.
Earlier this week, Canadore announced that Apothio, described as a hemp-derived cannabinoid research company operating in southern California, would commission the college’s Innovation Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Prototyping, or ICAMP, and DNA lab for research and development projects.
Founded in 2014, the company develops proprietary hemp and cannabis strains for use in different applications, including food development, nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals, as well as in clinical trials for the possible treatment of various medical conditions.
“We’ve got an incredibly diverse variety of hemp cannabis genetics that we can now look at functionally,” Apothio chief executive officer Trent Jones said in a Zoom call with The Nugget.
Industrial hemp is defined in Canada as containing 0.3 per cent or less of the psychoactive component of cannabis THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol.
A chiropractor from 1988 to 2014, Jones said having the genetics patented in Canada will create an incredible opportunity for worldwide export.
The company’s preliminary work in North Bay is expected to include the cataloguing of hundreds of seeds to be patented for export to Europe.
“There’s hundreds, if not a few thousand, applications that this can go into. And so building that model of mapping, with the foundation of the genetics you have, how you would apply them and then to apply them under a protected scenario — intellectual property — is enormous. It’s a game-changer.”
It’s a process that has been at least half a year in the making and has the potential to generate an estimated $2 million to $3 million a year in direct economic benefits for the city, according to Canadore College, through an expected increase in student enrolment.
A curriculum, centred more around the pharmacology and clinical aspects, is currently in the works. Pending ministry approval, it could be ready by next spring.
Apothio, meanwhile, projects between $10 million and $15 million, along with up to 125 new jobs, could be created in the region as pharmaceutical research industries and other companies in the sector relocate to North Bay.
“In today’s market and sector, you have a number of strains that are floating around. Some have some pretty funny names, but very few of them have been mapped out genomically,” said Dr. Pritesh Kumar, a pharmacologist and Canadore College’s director of cannabinoid research.
“So we see that as a very significant undertaking to be able to map the genome and then translate that to when we eventually do clinical work.”
Kumar, who also plans on relocating to North Bay from Atlanta where he is currently based, says Canada has predominantly been a THC-driven market for the past several years.
“Now, THC is clinically important, but there are other compounds within the plant that are also clinically important,” he said.
The Government of Canada states that cannabis contains hundreds of chemical substances, more than 100 of which are known as cannabinoids, which affect cell receptors in the brain and body and can change how those cells behave and communicate with each other.
The new agreement with Canadore College comes as Apothio seeks damages from Kern County in California — located north of Los Angeles — the county’s sheriff’s office, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and others over the destruction in October 2019 of 500 acres of hemp crops worth an estimated $1 billion.
A complaint filed in U.S. federal court in April has called the bulldozing of those crops one of “the largest wholesale destructions of personal property by government entities in the history of the United States.”
The documents say Apothio established its operations in Kern County in 2018.
The company’s legal counsel have argued that as an established agricultural research institution, or EARI, Apothio is allowed to legally research and commercialize hemp both under federal and state law.
They’ve also highlighted the Kern County Sheriff’s Office’s alleged history of civil and constitutional rights abuses, as detailed by the British newspaper The Guardian. The lawsuit is currently being challenged.
Asked about the suit and whether it will affect Apothio’s plans with Canadore, Jones referred to lead partner on the case Katherine Eskovitz for comment.
In a statement, Eskovitz said: “Apothio has sued to recover damages for the abuse of power by the Kern County Sheriff’s Office in destroying its legal hemp crops, and to prevent such abuses from happening to hemp farmers in the future. Apothio continues to move forward with its ground-breaking research as a leader in the hemp industry, and a recovery in this lawsuit will further assist Apothio in its ongoing research to support children, educational institutions, and the hemp industry.”
The Nugget reached out to Canadore College for further comment on the lawsuit but did not receive a response.
100 jobs expected
In the meantime, plans are underway to establish Apothio’s presence in North Bay, including securing land and employees, with the project alone expected to create about 100 jobs, from lab technicians to those doing oil extractions, Canadore director of innovations and The Village services Frank Suraci said.
“So there will be direct and indirect opportunities generated and as we get bigger and we get clients coming in from all places around the globe, those requirements will be expanded and we have to grow with it,” Suraci said.
A research licensing application also is being drafted, which once submitted could take anywhere from four to eight months to complete.
Born and raised in North Bay, Suraci moved back three years ago and pointed to the city’s potential to foster other industries.
“Health care has always been a sustainable sector. You can look at hospitals, you can look at doctors, you can look at services. But when I look at health care it’s a sector that includes pharma, includes research, processing, all sort of things, and I think we’re in a good position here because you don’t have to be in Toronto to undertake these functions,” Suraci said.
“And matter of fact, because of COVID, a lot of people are realizing, ‘I don’t have to be in the big city to do my work. I can live in North Bay,’ and we’re experiencing this in North Bay where we actually have people moving from the big cities, coming into North Bay, and working out of North Bay. Distance is no longer a factor, it’s a very low factor matter of fact.”
Jones also pointed to his particular affinity for smaller areas such as North Bay.
“When I talk to people who are from the smaller towns, that are farming and working with the land, they are kinder, their handshake is good and their word is good, and I can’t tell you how much that means,” he said.
“Everything comes down to trust and the people you work with.”