An Interview with Steve Dale and Carlos Guzmán from medcann Pharma discussing The Future of Global Cannabis Genetics and Seeds Supply
Could you give our readers an overview of your professional background, and what led you to cannabis?
I started cultivating cannabis as a hobby in 1989, which led to breeding it for several years as an amateur aficionado, before going professional in 1994. My experience working with the species spans several continents, and even more climates, including every paradigm from indoor, greenhouse, and field grown.
Cultivars that I developed in the 1990s and early 2000s are still popular today, as are many downstream hybrids of them. I’m also known for pioneering the aquaponic cultivation of cannabis, since 1994.
I identify myself as a cannabis futurist and precisely, for this reason, medcann was originally formed to pursue a strategic vision with two main goals: become a serious gene bank using marker-assisted selective breeding technology, and a producer at scale of the most affordable meds on the planet, by making the transition from horticulture to mechanized agriculture, while staying true to the conviction of cultivating biologically and sustainably.
I hold a master’s degree in economics, with major studies in finance (University of Notre Dame) and in senior management and risk (Yale University). My professional career began in the banking and financial sector where I held positions in entities, such as the Central Bank of Colombia, the Banking Association – ASOBANCARIA and the Securities Market Self-Regulator – AMV. I have also served as a consultant for the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Following this, I entered the tobacco industry with the multinational, Philip Morris International, where I built a solid career, becoming Vice President of the Andean Cluster. Additionally, I have served as member of several Boards of Directors.
I joined medcann Pharma and was attracted by the potential of the industry, especially in terms of innovation and development, the social impact cannabis can have, and its medical and scientific potential. For these reasons, under my leadership – and hand in hand with an exceptional team – the company is on course to become a global power in hybridization of formalized genetics and a world-class provider of genetics licensing and seeds supply.
What is the best way to find a location that is perfectly suited to/for your cultivation operation and business objectives? What criteria do you use to determine the suitability of your project site?
From the cultivation operation perspective, our business objectives include transitioning from the industry’s current horticultural paradigm to a mechanized agricultural one, in order to offer the world’s most affordable meds – so a vast flat region with endless expansion possibilities is ideal.
Fuentedeoro, Meta (Colombia) where our production and operations center is located, was chosen for its topography that allows mechanized agriculture, thus costs reduction, as well as favorable conditions for the cultivation of cannabis (for example, it is situated at a height of 312m above sea level; an average temperature of 26°C; and a percentage average photosynthetically active radiation of 80). It is a prime location in the best farmland of Los Llanos to assure a biological growth: environmental sustainability; healthier crops in the long-term; and better returns from the crops by operating with living soil.
Additionally, our breeding program benefits from the external pressures of an extreme environment in both wet and dry seasons.
For the business objectives, it is equally important to highlight Colombia’s position in the industry and its special regulatory framework. The country is part of the selected group of countries with legal genetic sourcing. Our company regulatory assets include a germplasm bank with more than 2.100 accessions (seed lines), 14 registered genetics and an ambitious Variety Registration Program, to ensure the continuous development of new genetics meeting market needs and progress in technical & scientific research.
These two key factors combined, ensure not only the suitability of our project but its contribution to the standardization and traceability of the global industry.
What methodologies do you apply to developing your genetics? How do you ensure stability?
Firstly, we apply a methodology of open-air selection crops that facilitates natural selection, due to the external pressures of the environment where the stronger survives.
We are also conducting marker-assisted selective breeding to aid in screening large populations of seedlings and identifying new markers through extensive field trials, through both wet and dry seasons. Stabilizing winning selections can take 3 pathways: 1) Traditional line breeding 2) Backcrossing 3) Selfing.
By means of genomes sequencing and the development of molecular markers, we can obtain fundamental information on the biology of cannabis and accelerate our breeding programs from the development of genetic resources to generating varieties that are more resistant to pests and diseases.
Why have you chosen to adapt the genetics to the climate?
At medcann, we chose to adapt the genetics to the climate – this the foundation of our genetics under development, creating much more resistant and productive genetics, by testing them in harsh environmental conditions outdoors. We have in place a framework for continuous R&D and breeding programs to offer the best quality genetics. Our outdoor cultivation takes advantage of the natural conditions, adapting to differences in temperature, humidity, light cycle, energy, and water consumption.
From the business perspective, we aim to be the most cost-effective genetics supplier worldwide. In the mid-term, once we have our first cultivars developed, we will be able to expand in a faster way with much less infrastructure and people, and hundreds of times cheaper than others in the space.
Once you’ve built your genetic library, how do you go about safeguarding your Intellectual Property (IP)? Is this something you can do domestically, globally, or both?
We have only formally registered genetics domestically up to now, but we are in the process of registering them in the EU and will add registrations in other jurisdictions before too longer.
As mentioned, it is important to note that Colombia has an advanced legislation when it comes to genetics Intellectual Property, and an established phytosanitary approval system for cannabis seeds which represents a great potential for seeds supply globally, boosting business opportunities worldwide.
With the genetics that you have developed at medcann, what added value does the company offer to cannabis cultivation operations with medical purposes?
When it comes to quality cannabis flower for medical use, consistency is paramount. Due to regulatory requirements and production standards commonly found in Europe, cannabis brands with large-scale operations often select consistent, high-quality cannabis cultivars for their product lines. At medcann, our range of cultivars and genetic expertise allow us to select optimal cultivars producing consistent and identified amounts of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other natural products; this way we can offer formalized and registered best quality genetics for medical purposes in terms of variety, productivity, and resilience.
As a major goal on the medicinal front, in the mid-term, we would like to pursue the development of formulations to relieve opioid withdrawal symptoms and chronic pain, using formulations which are CBN dominant, and to begin trials for treating rheumatism with a topical formulation.
Scientific and medical engagement is a priority for medcann, and we aim to collaboratively work to develop greater local scientific evidence regarding the therapeutic use of cannabis, by promoting serious debates with tangible results.
How do you plan to roll out these genetics and products to the wider cannabis industry?
Strictly B2B. The first 14 cultivars that we have registered now are being grown under license by both nurseries and producers in other countries. We will continue to distribute new releases through our existing and new international partners – from public and private entities. Currently we only provide propagation clones (asexual seed) but in the next year we should have our first seeds into the market as well.
We are advancing based on the technical, scientific, and medical strength with clients and collaborative projects, both in Europe and South America. Clones export to Europe will begin in the second semester of this year and there is a great opportunity for genetics licensing in Europe with regards to medical cannabis cultivation projects being implemented in the continent – we have already launch two large-scale projects in Andalusia and the Basque Country, in Spain.
In this context, medcann Europe – through our subsidiary in Spain – will play a major role in our roll-out plan by becoming a strategic player that facilitates the advancement and acquisition of knowledge about medicinal cannabis, its genetic and agricultural improvement, and the generation of evidence on its therapeutic effects (while making Spain a R&D pole for the industry).
The leadership of medcann obtaining required permits as a producer and supplier of formalized cannabis genetics, places the company in a privileged position for global operations – so, Asia and North America are also in our short-term plans.
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