Health Canada gives Brock green light for cannabis research

Brock is one of the first universities in the country to receive a cannabis-related research and development license from Health Canada under a new application process since cannabis was legalized last year.

The University was recently awarded permission to get started on two specific cannabis-related projects that will involve collaborations with local industry partners.

“This research license will expand Brock’s remarkable track record of partnerships that enable the agri-food and biomanufacturing sectors to work with leading researchers and access a talent pipeline of highly trained graduates,” said Vice-President, Research Tim Kenyon. “Brock is committed to supporting the rapidly expanding cannabis industry in Niagara and across the country through research and innovation that improves competitiveness while deepening our understanding.”

Initial research projects will be headed up by Professor of Biochemistry Debbie Inglis and Adjunct Professor of Biological Sciences Sudarsana Poojari. Although it doesn’t fall under Inglis’ work as Director of Brock’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), it was because of that institute’s reputation in the agriculture industry that led to one of the two new research projects.

“We identified a problem with our plants showing some signs of stress and we instantly knew the researchers at Brock could figure it out,” said Donald Ziraldo, Chairman of Heritage Cannabis Corp., which has partnered with Brock on one of the research projects. “There was no question where we would go.”

Ziraldo is well familiar with the University and the benefits of working with its research institutes. Along with business partner Karl Kaiser, Ziraldo launched Inniskillin Wines in 1975 and helped champion and fund the launch of CCOVI in 1996. It has now grown to be the most important research facility in the country for vine health and cold-weather hardiness research.

In his new role with Heritage Cannabis, Ziraldo will work with Inglis and Poojari to improve the quality and health of cannabis plants being grown primarily for medicinal use through disease diagnostics and testing.

“Because this was an illegal drug for so long, one of the things that’s missing is research, so we’re very pleased to be partnering with Brock on this,” Ziraldo said. “Initiatives such as this are fundamental to the ongoing success of any business and contributes greatly to the Niagara region and Canada.”

“This license puts us on the leading edge of being a research provider in this space,” Inglis said. “We already have tremendous experience on other plant products from the grape and wine industry and there’s a huge opportunity to translate that knowledge over to this new area of cannabis.”

The second research project will be run in conjunction with industry partner MAVCAN to research cannabis extractables for stability in a variety of products.

Launched by Maverick Distillery, which has been Canada’s leading craft distillery over the past decade, MAVCAN is a cannabis-infusion drink technology company in the final stage of becoming a Health Canada licensed producer.

“We understand the beverage market and controlled substances, and we recognize the immense beverage opportunities that come with the legalization of recreational cannabis,” said Craig Peters, Founder and CEO of Maverick Distillery and MAVCAN. “Through our partnership with Brock University, MAVCAN is leveraging cutting-edge separation and downstream processing technologies to isolate and refine high-value cannabinoid molecules.”

“We believe we have developed the best cannabis-infused drink technology in the industry and Brock is vital to keeping MAVCAN at the leading edge,” he said.

Although the research work will get started immediately, it will fall under the umbrella of the new Validating, Prototyping and Manufacturing Facility at Brock, which is expected to open in 2021. Announced in September, the new facility and equipment is the result of a significant investment through the federal government’s FedDev Community Economic Development and Diversification fund. The landmark facility is aimed at making the region a research and innovation leader in the bioagriculture, bioscience and chemical manufacturing sectors.

In the meantime, the research work will take place in secured labs in the Mackenzie Chown Complex.

“We couldn’t have gotten the license unless we satisfied Health Canada’s requirements of a fully controlled location,” said Randy Peterson, Business Development Officer in Brock’s Office of Research Services. “It’s a unique field of research in that Health Canada mandates very stringent sample control. We have to track material from the moment we receive it to when it’s disposed of.”

In addition to the two existing research activities, the University is in the process of proposing more projects to Health Canada. All have industry collaborators ready to come on board and are expected to be submitted for consideration in the coming months.

“At Brock, we have many more experts in various fields required for cannabis production and products that will benefit the industry by tapping into that expertise,” said Inglis. “It’s very exciting to see the experience we’ve built up in one area translating over to another area to benefit that sector.”

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