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Biobased Chemicals

Ginkgo partners with Cronos for fermentation-derived cannabinoids

Firms eye molecules with potential pharmaceutical uses that are minor components in plants

by Melody M. Bomgardner
September 6, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 36


Organism engineering start-up Ginkgo Bioworks has formed a partnership with Cronos Group, a Toronto-based owner of medical cannabis companies, to produce cannabinoids via fermentation. The firms say the deal could be worth up to $100 million.

The chemical structure of cannabigerol is shown.

Ginkgo uses synthetic DNA to modify yeast and other organisms to produce large volumes of pricey ingredients such as flavors, fragrances, and pharmaceuticals.

Cronos and Ginkgo plan to use the fermentation platform to produce a range of cannabinoids. Although psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and its nonpsychoactive cousin cannabidiol (CBD) get the most attention, the companies say cannabis plants contain small amounts of other compounds with potential use in treating chronic pain, nervous disorders, nausea, weight loss, and some mental illnesses.

Their goal is to make pure cannabinoids for less than $1,000 per kg. In addition to THC and CBD, the firms are targeting rarer compounds like cannabigerol and cannabichromene.

“The potential uses of cannabinoids are vast, but the key to successfully bringing cannabinoid-based products to market is in creating reliable, consistent, and scalable production,” Cronos CEO Mike Gorenstein says.

Research into medical uses of cannabinoids got a boost in June, when the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved Epidiolex, a marijuana extract of CBD, to treat rare seizure disorders.

Other firms are also looking to produce active ingredients for such drugs. In addition to fermentation, cannabinoids can be synthesized or extracted from hemp or marijuana plants.

In May, the pharmaceutical chemical firm Noramco struck a deal with Axim Biotechnologies to make synthetic THC to treat nausea in people with cancer or AIDS. Earlier, Nemus Bioscience tasked Albany Molecular Research Inc. to synthesize tetrahydrocannabinol-valine-hemisuccinate, a prodrug of THC, for treatment of glaucoma.


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