The following post was written and/or published as a collaboration between Benzinga’s in-house sponsored content team and a financial partner of Benzinga.
The rapid innovation and growth in biotechnology is being used to define, validate, and enhance therapeutic outcomes from cannabinoids. The results could prove highly valuable to patients, as well as the pharmaceutical sector and its investors.
That is according to Punit Dhillon, the recently appointed CEO at Emerald Bioscience Inc EMBI, a San Diego-based biotech focused on cannabinoid-derived therapies for a spectrum of diseases with unmet medical needs. Through his various leadership roles at biopharmaceutical companies like OncoSec Medical Inc ONCS and Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc INO, Dhillon learned first-hand what it takes for biotech businesses to catalyze growth and provide well-differentiated approaches for the treatment of diseases.
Dhillon spoke with Benzinga about Emerald's proprietary technology which substantially enhances the local delivery, bioavailability, dosing, and – most importantly – potentially advantageous therapeutic effects of cannabinoids for diseases like glaucoma.
A First In Medicine: THC and CBD – the two major cannabinoids which act on specific receptors found on the endocannabinoid system – have been shown to maintain homeostasis in the body. Emerald’s research and development has further pushed the boundaries, bringing new ways to effect change on the endocannabinoid’s signalling pathways that involve a whole range of different physiological and pathological conditions.
“The endocannabinoid system is becoming increasingly recognized as an important system in the body that can be pharmacologically targeted for therapeutic benefits related to a myriad of diseases involving inflammation, pain, neurodegeneration, and immune modulation, to name a few."
Since Dhillon’s arrival, the firm has clarified a development path for its lead molecule.
"We're focusing our initial efforts on ocular opportunities, where there's been very little innovation, broadly speaking," the CEO said in reference to Emerald's clinical study of cannabis-infused treatments for glaucoma, the increase in intraocular pressure (IOP) that damages the retinal ganglion cells connected to the optic nerve, and causes irreversible loss of vision.
Using THC as medicine alone does have drawbacks, however. Specifically, THC is not concentrated enough to lower IOP. Additionally, the appearance of being under the influence and persistently low blood pressure are two other key detractors.
Emerald’s active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) overcome these common issues by enabling local delivery of more hydrophilic, comparatively minuscule THC doses directly to the eye, as an eyedrop. The drug's solubility offers deeper penetration into the eye where the THC conversion then delivers the molecule to the specific organ that regulates IOP.
“In our planned clinical study in humans, we are in fact going to have the benefit of using an agent that has already shown utility in humans – but our version has the basis to be very safe and far more effective."
“By controlling IOP, we can slow and preserve vision loss,” the CEO added. “Our mechanism is very unique compared to what exists. We’ve been able to deliver this and have an improvement over standard drugs.”
One Big Thing: There is a large subset of patients in the world who develop vision loss even while having controlled or normal IOP levels.
“The exact reason why these patients still suffer damage to their optic nerve and vision loss is not completely understood, but neurodegeneration is evident. Existing drugs offer no benefit for these patients," said Dhillon.
This area, according to the CEO, is where Emerald may inflict game-changing results.
“There is significant peer-reviewed literature to support the ability of cannabinoids, specifically THC, to provide neuroprotection of these cells that make up the optic nerve. There is nothing currently in the market that provides this neuroprotective benefit, making our mechanism very unique compared to what exists."
Path To Viability: Presently, Emerald’s work alongside a university that has a long-standing relationship at the federal level has given it a leg up in securing compelling proprietary technology.
"The University of Mississippi was given the first and only federal license to grow and conduct research on cannabis by the DEA going back 50 years. Their research produced the THCVHS and CBDVHS molecules that Emerald subsequently licensed from them," Dhillon said in reference to Emerald's fast-paced research and development.
Emerald’s products won’t be found at the storefront cannabis shop. Instead, the firm applies the full knowledge and capability of decades of R&D, clinical, and business development experience in the life sciences industry to advance differentiated, patented molecules through regulated processes, to validate their medical capabilities fully.
“The wider the "moat" of strong intellectual property and the stronger the data generated in well-designed clinical studies, the greater the potential interest a company with new medicines can generate from professional biotech investors and prospective pharmaceutical partners.”
Growth Prospects: Going forward, Emerald will look to do more preclinical assessments comparing its lead THCVHS compound to existing commercialized glaucoma drugs over their ability to reduce IOP and provide neuroprotection of the optic nerve.
If the firm can demonstrate superior IOP lowering and neuroprotection, then it's painting a new precedent for the treatment of glaucoma and potentially other diseases.
"We aim to start our first human study in the third quarter of 2021,” Dhillon added.
“Because of the nature of this disease – our monitoring period for each patient will be measured in just weeks – the overall study will be fast and relatively low-cost, and the study is designed in a manner that will also provide an early indication of efficacy not normally available in typical phase 1 studies.”
On another note, Emerald is moving forward on a rebranding process to represent the change in leadership and reinvigorated focus to enter the clinic within the next nine months. As part of this initiative, there will be a change to the firm’s corporate name and trading symbol, which is expected to occur in January.
The preceding post was written and/or published as a collaboration between Benzinga’s in-house sponsored content team and a financial partner of Benzinga. Although the piece is not and should not be construed as editorial content, the sponsored content team works to ensure that any and all information contained within is true and accurate to the best of their knowledge and research. This content is for informational purposes only and not intended to be investing advice.
© 2022 Benzinga.com. Benzinga does not provide investment advice. All rights reserved.