Israel Part II: Research, Science And Technology
Last issue, I introduced readers to the blossoming medical cannabis scene in Israel, and talked about what it’s like to be a medicinal cannabis patient there. This month, I will take a look at the many, varied innovations now being produced, along with some of the most advanced cannabinoid research taking place in the world today.
Talking Terpenes with Eybna Technologies
My hosts for this visit are the managers of Eybna Technologies, a startup dedicated to “cracking the code” of cannabis—discovering all there is to know about the thousands of compounds it contains. Eybna’s main focus and specialization is terpenes, the naturally-occurring compounds that give cannabis its aroma and flavor.
Nadav Eyal, Eybna’s youthful CEO and Co-Founder, explains that by analyzing thousands of specimens from dozens of different strains, his startup is discovering exactly how terpenes and cannabinoids interact to produce synergistic effects. Once they have enough evidence of their hypotheses, Eybna plans to launch an international cannabis brand offering tailored therapies for a range of medical conditions.
Eybna currently produces several terpene-based products, which contain no cannabinoids and are not internationally restricted. Already, several companies in the U.S. import Eybna terpene blends for adding to e-cigarette liquids or BHO.
Co-Founder/COO Benjamin Eytan and Product Marketing Manager Avichai Elbaz proudly explain that in collaboration with hundreds of patients, Eybna have also developed terpene-infused cannabis enhancing blends that are far safer than tobacco, with the added potential of augmenting the effects of medicinal cannabis! They call this flagship product line “Wingman”, and so far they offer “Sativa Booster,” “Indica Booster” and “Natural” blends.
Ideas Never Stop Coming at Seach
One of Eybna’s most important collaborators is Seach Ltd. Seach and Eybna work together to grow, process and analyze thousands of cannabis plants. This partnership enables Eybna to calculate “average” profiles for dozens of popular strains including OG Kush, Super Lemon Haze, and many more.
But that’s far from the only collaboration that Seach is involved in. In the “Startup Nation,” there are endless numbers of young, enthusiastic entrepreneurs keen to make their mark, and the cannabis industry is no exception. Shay Avraham, Seach’s forward-thinking R&D Manager, wants to explore every possibility.
Seach now boasts several partnerships with emerging companies, and a range of innovative products for patient and caregivers. One startup, known as Meta-Re-Nan, makes a decarb reactor that decarboxylates cannabis with controlled heat (and without damaging precious terpenes). Meta-Re-Nan is also developing a tabletop solventless extraction system to allow home users to produce finely-separated fractions for very little cost.
Another innovation is Genetic V, a DNA fingerprinting bioinformatics-based service that can map the genome of a cannabis plant from a tiny piece of leaf or bud, ideal for dispensaries to verify the authenticity and consistency of their purchased cannabis.
Cann10Con–the Meeting of the Minds
Shay has gone to great lengths to ensure that he has the best possible chance of meeting new entrepreneurs and hearing their ideas. To this end, his team at Seach is deeply involved with Cann10Con, an annual cannabis conference bringing together representatives from 20-plus nations to share knowledge and unveil new products.
Cann10Con hosts a Startup Pavilion—a spawning ground for scientists, entrepreneurs and investors to meet and breathe life into new projects. Furthermore, plans are taking shape for a crowdfunding site that will bring together scientists and innovators with members of the public wishing to contribute funds to make new products and clinical trials a reality.
“This infrastructure has never before been seen for cannabis,” says Shay. “Everyone that wants to join can give just $2, $10 or whatever they want to contribute—and clinical trials can be funded by people from all over the world.”
“Unlike the U.S., we can run trials right now,” he continues. “We have five or six already running, and another ten waiting. I want to help them get the money they need.”
Another annual cannabis conference in Israel that is now achieving global importance is CannaTech—the brainchild of Saul Kaye, a pharmacist originally hailing from Perth, Australia and Clifton Flack, a marketing expert originally from London, England. The two entrepreneurial spirits launched their company, iCan, in 2015 to supply the emerging industry with consultancy, business development and marketing services.
Since then, iCan has played an instrumental role in shaping the fledgling Israeli industry, and the conferences and conventions they hold are fundamental to the process. The next CannaTech conference will be held March 20–22 in 2017.
The Cutting Edge of Cannabinoid Research at Technion
The last stop on our tour of Israel’s cannabis industry is a visit to Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa, an hour north of Tel Aviv. There, we are to meet with Dr. David “Dedi” Meiri, the brilliant and passionate biologist who heads the Laboratory of Cancer Biology and Cannabinoid Research.
Dr. Meiri’s team is equipped with some of the most cutting-edge materials and machinery the world has to offer, and as we tour the laboratory, he explains in detail what each complicated device is for.
First, I am introduced to the confocal two-photon microscopy system, an advanced form of confocal microscope that uses photons of infrared light in order to create a three-dimensional image. With this system, it is possible to look inside live animals—down to the level of a single cell, or even deeper, to a subcellular level. This technology can help Dr. Meiri’s researchers understand what is happening in diseases such as cancer, and how tumors respond in real time to cannabinoid treatments.
Next, I am shown a supercritical CO2 extraction system that allows variation of temperature, pressure and solvent ratio to produce different fractions. Dr. Meiri explains that by combining CO2 with other solvents such as ethanol and isopropyl, and experimenting with pressure and temperature, his team, “Can increase the ratio of cannabinoids to terpenes, or isolate just the terpenes, or even a single class of cannabinoids.”
In the early stages of his research, Dr. Meiri observed that different cannabis strains exhibited markedly different biological activity even if the strains contained equal ratios of THC and CBD. Intrigued, he approached Dr. Mechoulam for some professional advice.
“So Raphi told me, ‘There are not just five cannabinoids, there are over one hundred!’” Dr. Meiri recounts; “So I wanted to find out everything I could about every single one.”
As Dr. Meiri explains, his mission is to gain a full understanding of cannabis in all its complexity. By researching the whole range of cannabinoids and terpenoids, Dr. Meiri’s team can discover tailored treatments for complex diseases that don’t respond well to current one-size-fits-all pharmaceuticals—such as certain forms of childhood epilepsy, where children may respond very differently to different strains even if they contain equal amounts of CBD.
To achieve this aim, the team has another crucial piece of lab equipment—a next-generation liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) machine that allows for far more precise identification of terpenoids, cannabinoids and cannabinoid acids than the current industry standard.
Dr. Meiri explains that standard high-pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) technology only allows for the identification of eight cannabinoids—but with this machine and his advanced CO2 extraction system, his team is able to identify all cannabinoids and terpenes from a plant or extract, and even separate them.
Using these methods, Meiri’s lab has created a library of over 300 different cannabis strains with unique cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles, helping the team to reveal the effect of cannabis on different types of cancer, epilepsy and diabetes.