Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after striking a deal to supply Canadian cannabis firm Zenabis with 36,000kg of CBD isolate over a three-year period beginning Q4, 2019, Farmako co-founder and chief science officer Dr Patrick Schmitt said: “This new process can turn the complete cannabis, pharma and food industry upside down.”
Instead of using yeast, Farmako has genetically engineered a bacterium called Zymomonas mobilis, which is also used for the production of tequila, such that the modified bacterium (‘Zynonomis cannabinoidis’) can produce scores of cannabinoids – including CBD and THC – in a continuous process from glucose in fermentation tanks.
“Producing pure THC, CBD or any other cannabinoid will cost one thousandth of the [cost of the] traditional cultivation process,” claimed Schmitt, who introduced genes from the malaria pathogen and the cannabis plant and then used gene editing to remove genes responsible for alcohol production from the bacterial genome.
With one production run, we can produce cannabinoids for 900 hours without interruption
The increased efficiency vs yeast fermentation is in part because the cannabinoids are secreted by the bacterium into the surrounding broth and then removed using a proprietary process on a continuous basis, he said. Yeast, by contrast, produces cannabinoids within its cells, which must be broken up in order to extract them, he claimed.
“Using yeast cells, the production cannot be carried out in a continuous process. This means that the cells are cultivated for a certain time in a bioreactor and then must be broken up so that the firm cannabinoids can be purified. Production is interrupted, and the process must be restarted.
“With Zynonomis cannabinoidis this is different. We have genetically modified Zymomonas mobilis and registered Zynonomis cannabinoidis for a patent. The bacterium will continuously add cannabinoids to the medium. With one production run, we can produce cannabinoids for 900 hours without interruption, This equals 4.5 kilos of THC per one gram of bacterium.”
"In principle,” he added, “nothing else happens during biosynthesis than during alcohol fermentation, with the difference that cannabinoids, instead of alcohol, are the outcome of the process."
Our process is the most efficient
He added: “We are the only company worldwide which has filed a patent for the whole process for a bio-synthetical production. Therefore, we have a worldwide protection against competition of our entire production process. So far, our process is the most efficient one. We will also be the first producer in the world that has a production ready and scalable biosynthesis for CBD and THC as well as many more cannabinoids.
“We will be able to deliver high quality products at significantly lower prices compared to extracted products. We have just signed the world’s first deal in global cannabis history for mass produced CBD from biosynthesis: Farmako will produce 36,000 kg of CBD with the new CBCB-[Continuous Bacterial Cannabinoid Biosynthesis] method for Zenabis resulting in double-digit million Euros revenue.”
Bio-synthetically produced CBD will soon be used for different food and drinks
Asked whether the use of genetic engineering might put some potential customers off biosynthesized cannabinoids in food and supplement markets build around ‘natural’ products derived from plants, he said, “We will definitely see bio-synthetically produced cannabinoids in all different kinds of products.
“Bio-synthetically produced CBD will soon be used for different food and drinks. Our CBD is identical to the naturally produced CBD. We have seen similar processes for things such as Vitamin C. Nowadays, most of the Vitamin C in food and beverages is produced by bacteria. Before this innovation, it had been extracted from plants such as citrus fruits. Nowadays, the same change is happening in the CBD industry.”
The entourage effect?
But what about the so-called 'entourage effect,' which some stakeholders claim makes broad or full spectrum hemp extracts (which contain a range of cannabinoids, terpenes and other ingredients) a more appealing choice than isolated cannabinoids?
“This so called ‘entourage effect’ is hard to measure,” said Schmitt, who said Farmako is targeting “the big and fast-growing CBD markets such as USA, Canada and Asia.
“As a rational human being and scientist, I prefer empirical research. Thanks to our biosynthesis we can also combine multiple cannabinoids easily and measure their impact. This will be done by double blind clinical studies according to highest standards of the health society.
“I am sure that we will unmask this so called ‘entourage effect’ as a kind of placebo very soon. But I am also keen that we will have cannabinoid-based drugs containing not only THC or CBD but a combination of various cannabinoids to completely different illnesses. We are still far away to understand in how many different cases pharmaceutical cannabis will change our therapies.”
“Signing the first deal in history for mass produced CBD isolates created by biosynthesis is not only a huge milestone for Farmako and Zenabis but for the global cannabis industry. Being the first European company to sell CBD isolates to the currently dried up Canadian market puts us at a huge competitive advantage within the global market and also supports us in bridging the gap between cannabis and pharma.
"With our unique Continuous Bacterial Cannabinoid Biosynthesis (CBCB) Method using our patented bacterium Zynmomonas cannabinoidis we are able to produce nature-identical cannabinoids very effectively and at very low costs on a large scale.”
Niklas Kouparanis, founder and CEO, Farmako