Advanced Technology and High-Quality Medical Cannabis: Computational Biology Meets a Plant Uncultivated for over a Century

Assaf Lebanon
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Assaf Lebanon
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When Dr. Arnon Heyman joined Evogene a leading company in the computational biology field, he did not expect to one day be cultivating cannabis.  However, in light of the complex challenges in the field of medical cannabis, Evogene (NASDAQ:EVGN) saw the opportunity to provide solutions to this market, based on its unique predictive computational biology platform, which leverages big data with advanced artificial intelligence algorithms to control the expression of genetic traits. 

Ideally positioned to meet the challenges in the fast-developing medical cannabis market, Evogene established a dedicated subsidiary, Canonic, and appointed Dr. Heyman as Chief Executive Officer.  Since its establishment, new cannabis varieties have been under development in Canonic, using the infrastructure provided by its parent company, including technology, labs, greenhouses and manpower.

Canonic has one of Israel’s largest cannabis farms, spanning over 32 thousand sq. ft., which together with molecular research labs and tissue culture rooms, make the operation truly hi-tech.  The company imported over one hundred cannabis lines from all over the world, which it genetically and biochemically characterized, and improved to reach top-of-the-line products for the medical cannabis market.

“We’ve established the broadest possible breeding program for cannabis,” says Dr. Heyman.  “we have already characterized more than 1000 cannabis lines where every detail of every plant is fed into our vast database, enabling us to make the best decisions about breeding plants with properties that the market needs.

“We’ve established the broadest possible breeding program for cannabis”

Today, we are developing and commercializing our products under the Canonic brand in Israel. Two of our products G200 & G150 are already in the pharmacies and the feedback is very positive. This was the reason to more ahead of schedule with the full launch of our products”

While Israel has a number of cannabis-growing companies, Canonic, according to Dr. Heyman, is unique.  “Our vast experience in plant genetics and advanced computational technology, based on our own findings and big data, is unmatched,” he says.  “The cannabis plant has a 100-year gap compared to other crops, in which it did not meet technology and was not cultivated. This is a gap we need to close, and we are doing this with the most advanced technologies of 21st century. 

Dr. Arnon Heyman Credit: Yoram Reshef

Our work methods are not common in the cannabis world — and the few companies, whose approach is technological like ours, don’t have Evogene technology.   With our hi-tech tools, advanced breeding and very wide genetic variety, we aim to crack the plant’s genetic code and develop choice hybrids.  We are not a company that is building the entire value chain, we are focused on our competitive advantage - plant breeding. To produce the end-product we employ external growers and manufactures, that way each party is focused on what they are good at.”

The company is developing its cannabis varieties through natural breeding methods, he continues. 

“There’s no genetic engineering involved.  We use both traditional agricultural tools as well as modern practices and computational technologies to create hybrids.  Evogene’s technology enables us to identify relevant genes in the plant, link them to the traits we seek — inflorescence, active ingredients and more — and thus direct breeding, creating new varieties with the desired characteristics.” 

The varieties under development, are categorized in two broad product families.  The first is Meta-Yield, which aims to increase the concentration of desired active ingredients in the plant.  Canonic recently announced the commercial launch of two products from this family. The second family is Precise, which aims at products with specific active ingredients for specific medical indications.

“We’ve chosen to initially work on products for inflammation and pain, which constitute over 60 percent of the medical cannabis market not only in Israel but also in Europe and North America,” says Dr. Heyman.  “We are developing these products by scanning varieties in laboratory experiments in collaboration with Hadassah Medical Organization, examining specific active ingredients in the plant which are relevant to medical indications.”

In terms of marketing, Dr. Heyman finds Israel “very interesting.  It’s a well-developed market, that already has some 100,000 licensed patients.   Ultimately, however, our target markets are larger — in Europe and North America.   The European market is already equal in size to Israel’s and growing fast; but both are dwarfed by that in the United States and Canada.  The Israeli market is a springboard to display what we’re bringing to the world of cannabis.”  Canonic has already received very positive feedback on its first products in a pre-commercial campaign to a limited number of patients, giving the company the confidence to push forward the full commercial launch of these product in Israel.

Mr. Ofer Haviv, Chairman of Canonic and CEO & President of Evogene, stated: “I am pleased to see that within a very short time Canonic has built an impressive operation, with the launch of its first commercial-scale sales of medical cannabis. We are proud of the key role that Evogene played in this achievement, supporting product development using our unique platform and computational biology tech engine, GeneRator AI.  We look forward to Canonic continuing to meet and exceed expectations and goals on its way to delivering exceptional products to patients.”

“We pay close attention to feedback,” says Dr Heyman.  “It helps us continue to improve what we produce.  What reaches the pharmacy today is paving the way for our next generation of products.  I’m confident that the quality of our products will remain extremely high.  We’re building them from the ground up, based on top-level science and technology, which makes our chances of reaching a high-level and stable product, that fully meets consumer expectations, excellent.”