Jeff Ubersax, the CEO of cannabis biotechnology company Demetrix, joined the GCI Content Hub in conversation.
Could you give our readers an overview of your professional background, and what led you to the cannabinoid industry?
My entire career has been dedicated to building biotechnology to make the world a better place. I’ve focused on using fermentation to produce rare plant molecules that improve human health and wellness by making them more sustainably.
I was fortunate to meet Jay Keasling, one of Demetrix’s founders, early in my career. Jay is well known for his ground breaking work in fermentation production technology to make rare plant molecules, and we share a passion for making the world a better place with science.
When looking at which molecules in nature could be produced through fermentation and have the impact we wanted, we quickly landed on the cannabinoids. We were seeing advancement of CBD into various markets, and we knew this was just the beginning. There are over a hundred cannabinoids in the plant that are very rare, which has made them hard to study, let alone consider supplying at commercial scale.
We felt that this was a promising opportunity to use fermentation to produce the exact same cannabinoid as in the plant, at larger quantities and high purity. This technology provides access to these compounds for proper research studies, enabling scientists at Demetrix to identify which cannabinoids will benefit individuals with specific health concerns.
To be at the forefront of providing the research community with access to a class of compounds that hold so much promise is a once in a career opportunity that I feel fortunate to be a part of.
Where do you see the potential for rare cannabinoids with regards to health and wellness?
Imagine being able to provide safe, efficacious, and affordable solutions from nature.
That’s the potential we envision for rare cannabinoids.
Our research has shown that there are tremendous possibilities for this class of bioactive molecules to improve health and wellness.
Beyond Demetrix, research has shown compounds from the Cannabis sativa plant could provide skincare, wellness, and pharmaceutical benefits. The potential of cannabinoids in treating pain, inflammation, and other conditions was best documented in a study by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids in 2017.
More recently, emerging evidence has pointed to their ability to regulate our skin and gut microbiome. It’s incredible to think of the innovation these ingredients could provide across multiple industries. It’s rare to find an entire class of compounds such as these that are just beginning to be studied and appreciated by modern science.
Our team at Demetrix is excited to be part of that process. As more data becomes available, we believe a larger and clearer picture will emerge, one that will show the unique potential of each bioactive and how they can be used, individually or in combination, to better our lives.
How are cannabinoids made through fermentation and why use this method rather than traditional agriculture?
With fermentation, yeast are engineered to make specific cannabinoids. They are then provided with specific nutrients and conditions they need to make a cannabinoid more efficiently than in the plant. The end product is a botanically identical, naturally derived ingredient that’s identical to the compound produced by the plant.
Many of the cannabinoids in C. sativa are rare, meaning they account for less than 0.1% of the plant. Attempting to harvest enough product to supply commercial demand would be unsustainable, consuming excessive land, water, and energy resources.
Fermentation allows us to make nearly any cannabinoid at commercial levels, regardless of how little is made by the plant. We can readily produce multiple tonnes with high purity in a more sustainable way than traditional agriculture.
Manufacturing rare cannabinoids through fermentation holds a lot of promise, but where is the industry at this point? Where are you in relation to producing commercial scale volumes?
At Demetrix, we define commercial scale production as running fermentations that are 100,000 liters or more and doing it the same way every time with stringent quality control and assurances. To put this into context, a swimming pool that is 20 feet by 40 feet and 4.5 feet deep is about the same size – and that’s a large pool. The ultimate goal is to produce large volumes.
We are currently scaling our first product, cannabigerol (CBG), to commercial scale. We have been pleased with how smoothly our scale up has gone. We attribute this to having some of the best scientists and engineers at Demetrix who have done this before and know which risks to take and, more importantly, which not to take. We’ve also partnered with the very best manufacturing partners in the industry.
The cannabinoid market is complex and often difficult to navigate. How should companies approach market entry? What obstacles do you see in the legal and regulatory fields?
Market entry is a multi-pronged approach to ensure safe, legal, and efficacious products for our customers.
Companies in this space should be committed to working with the broader cannabinoid industry and all regulatory bodies. Understanding the laws for the geographies we’re targeting is key. These can be complex and there are often different guidelines for launching a cosmetic, food, nutraceutical, or active pharmaceutical ingredient with cannabinoids globally.
Demetrix strongly supports the need for regulatory oversight in the industry. We are focused on building strong relationships within the industry and take our reputation as a trusted consultant in the market seriously. It’s in the industry’s best interest that we all collectively guarantee a safe and positive consumer experience.
Where do you see the future of the industry?
The cannabinoid industry has continued to grow over the last five years, and with our contributions and those of our partners, we only see it getting stronger.
As cannabinoid research continues, we expect to better utilize the hundreds of bioactive ingredients made by the C. sativa plant in new and innovative ways to improve human health and wellness. This is where it all goes back to the beginnings of Demetrix – using science to improve lives – and we’re just getting started.
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