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Interview with Avicanna

This week we sat down with iCDP event partner Avicanna’s CEO, Aras Azadian, to talk about Avicanna, their recent IPO and the work they are doing in the cannabinoid space now and in the future.

So for those that don’t know as much about Avicanna, could you provide a bit of an overview of the company and your current areas of focus? 

Avicanna is a Canadian biopharmaceutical company focused on cannabinoid research, product development and commercialization. Our research and development is headquartered in the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Centre, JLABS @ Toronto located in MaRS Discovery District where we are permitted to work with cannabinoid-based formulations and advanced pharmaceutical drug development due to the receipt of our Research Licence from Health Canada. We have two majority-owned subsidiaries in Santa Marta, Colombia serving as the base for Avicanna's cultivation activities.

We focus on six therapeutic areas including dermatology, pain, neurology, oncology, gastrointestinal and psychiatry. Our R&D and cultivation activities are focused on the development of our key products, including plant-derived cannabinoid pharmaceuticals, phyto-therapeutics, derma-cosmetics and extracts (defined as plant-derived cannabinoid extracts and purified cannabinoids, including distillates and isolates). As a research-oriented company we have attracted numerous partnerships with world-class institutions including the services of researchers at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto. We have had partnerships with University Health Network (UHN), Princess Margaret Hospital, The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), University of West Indies and University of Antioquia.

So your current pharmaceutical pipeline is concerned with dermatology, pain and neurology. Evidently the reference base of research for these therapeutic areas is growing every day, could you tell us a little about your pipeline and how you see it developing moving forwards?

One of the most recent exciting indications from our pipeline is that Centro de Atención e Investigación Médica CAIMED S.A.S. ("CAIMED") has commenced clinical studies on Avicanna's Pura Earth™ derma-cosmetics products in order to demonstrate their effectiveness with specific cosmetic endpoints, such as reduction of fine lines associated with aging, efficacy as a moisturizer for eczema prone skin, and reduction of sebum and redness attributed to acne. CAIMED’s clinical investigations will provide data that is expected to validate the efficacy and the intended claims of our derma-cosmetics through evidence-based platforms. In addition, we have ongoing pharmaceutical studies related to dermatology and neuropathic pain with leading Canadian institutions. Our pipeline of products also will be targeting other specific areas such palliative care, nausea, MS, epilepsy and eczema, which all have had early signs of success in our in-vitro and in-vivo models in addition to the research conducted globally.

For those that are following Avicanna at the moment this is an incredibly exciting time for you having undertaken a very recent IPO to list on the Toronto Stock Exchange, what were the key factors that led to this decision?

As many organizations around the world would understand, Canada’s regulatory regime requires a high level of corporate governance and regulatory compliance when compared with many markets around the world. Hence, going public and being directly listed on one of Canada’s senior stock exchanges (TSX) as Industrial (Research and Development) issuer, is a major milestone for us – one that comes in parallel with the evolution of Avicanna. We recognized that going public would enable our company to more readily access capital on the public markets in the event that additional funds are needed to accelerate the company's growth and will allow the public market to participate in the growth of the company and the medical cannabis industry generally. I think it’s important to mention that we had the intention of doing an IPO and trading from the beginning of our journey – but we took our time. In so doing, we wanted to make sure we have matured and evolved into a well-structured and a reputable company, globally.

Now the cannabis and cannabinoid space is presented with quite a unique array of challenges, I would love to hear what Avicanna feel are the biggest challenges that this industry will have to address moving forwards, and how has this altered your experience working in this space?

The biggest challenges still remain the growing pains, stigma and of course regulations faced by many companies in this industry. What we are witnessing locally and globally is that regulations are evolving every day and pivoting in some jurisdictions without any set standards. We believe that Avicanna can set the standards and help regulators implement the appropriate policies and procedures for the emergence and evolution of this industry. This synergistic relationship is deeply rooted in our strong commitment to evidence-based Best Practice generated through our overarching model of rigorous scientific research, with the ultimate goal of providing safe and truly efficacious cannabinoid-based products. Consumers and patients would benefit from good quality cannabinoid-based products with the appropriate dose that offer consistency and are delivered properly. However, people have access to products that do not have the appropriate dose, act as placebos and may contain THC where they indicate otherwise. This leads to adverse effects for consumers and patients. In order to guard against that, we need to have regulatory steps and controls need to be in place on the dosing end of the spectrum.

In addition to your work in Canada, you also have 2 fully licenced subsidiaries in Colombia focussed on cannabis cultivation. Why did you choose Colombia for these operations?

We were disappointed with many things in the marketplace including product inconsistency, quality control standards, inefficiencies, high costs of products and environmentally unsustainable operations. We conducted a global search and concluded that Colombia had the prerequisites to build a world-class cannabinoid operation.You must keep in mind; our cultivation projects are a part of our supply chain. As a strictly biopharma company, we wanted to make sure that we can cultivate cannabinoids in a sustainable, consistent climate at a low-cost and at a level that will be optimized to deliver products globally. At Avicanna, our mission is to provide unparalleled quality of natural cannabinoids solutions that foster informed communities and improve quality of life. So, we understand today’s patients are paying more out of pocket for healthcare costs than before. We also recognize that we have a part to play in that equation. By bringing the costs down to make patient products more affordable - while maintaining high quality and consistency from start to finish under Good Agricultural and Collection Practices (GACP) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) –This process inadvertently helps reduce the stigma associated with cannabinoid products and its reliability as a treatment option, both from a medical and a consumer-based vantage point.

Now this is an obvious marker of an increasingly global cannabis industry. How do you see this global approach developing in the coming years?

This industry is definitely here to stay and will continue to see significant growth in the years ahead. We anticipate that the demand for evidence-based research and data-driven science as well as education, enhancement of product quality and consistency will continue to become more apparent in this arena – to consumers, researchers and investors. This notion has been a key contributor to the way Avicanna has positioned itself from inception and has approached the science of cannabinoids by predominantly focusing on research and development – one that is aligned with global standards. As more countries move towards legalization of cannabis from a medical use standpoint, evidence-based data and product consistency will be the catalyst to convince the medical community to prescribe or recommend cannabinoid-based products to their patients.