The projects will focus on obtaining varieties of cannabinoids for the pharmaceutical industry and the application of digital systems to guarantee the traceability of production.
Two regional governments have promoted research projects in the increasingly thriving cannabis sector, despite the absolute lack of progress in its regulation in Spain. The Generalitat de Catalunya and that of the Valencian Community have decided to finance studies with crops of this plant that were authorized last July by the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS), dependent on the Ministry of Health, in both cases developed in collaboration with public universities.
The Institute for Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA), attached to the Department of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Food of Catalonia, and the Scientific Unit for Business Innovation Ars Innovatio of the Valencian Innovation Agency have launched the first research projects with cannabis cultivation financed by a public body of the Administration in Spain. The first will focus on obtaining varieties of cannabinoids for the pharmaceutical industry and the second will study the application of digital technology to improve and guarantee the traceability of the crops of this plant. One of the studies will focus on obtaining varieties of cannabinoids for the pharmaceutical industry
IRTA develops tools to improve the genetics of cannabis plants in collaboration with the Center for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG), a consortium formed by the Higher Council for Scientific Research and the Autonomous and Barcelona universities, and with the support of the american company Front Range Biosciences (FRB). This research is carried out in a “high security” greenhouse, as highlighted by the Catalan Government body in the statement it has issued to inform about the project authorized by the AEMPS, in which, it explains, the technology of molecular markers for the improvement of varieties.
This project foresees the realization of field trials, selective crosses and genomic research in order to obtain, in the long term, new varieties that “express various profiles of cannabinoids demanded by the pharmaceutical industry and that, from the agronomic point of view, are resistant to pests and diseases ”, adds IRTA in its statement.
The director of International Relations of this body of the Catalan Generalitat, Eliecer Lopez, laments in writing that despite being a productive sector with interest, “like any other”, the restrictions on its cultivation have not allowed progress in its research at the same rate as with other plants. And not only that, this body of the Catalan Generalitat maintains, together with its collaborators in the project, that the cultivation of cannabis to obtain extracts with high added value “is a clear example of an alternative to conventional agricultural systems, which, for its characteristics can contribute to maintaining the rural population in the territory through a circular bioeconomy crop that generates extracts and derived products with high economic value in a fully legal and regulated market ”.
The same publication by this Catalan government body includes the assessment of the collaborating company FRB, which is based in Colorado, one of the leading states in the cannabis industry in the US. “The authorization issued by the AEMPS is a very important milestone to continue the expansion of FRB in Europe”, says its general director, Jonathan Vought, who adds: “The continuous growth of the medical cannabis industry throughout Europe represents a great opportunity for the commercialization of new varieties of cannabis and high-yield seeds that allow the production of cannabinoids of medical interest.”
Traceability for regulatory bodies
The cannabis research project financed by the Generalitat of the Valencian Community through its Innovation Agency is part of the field of precision agriculture programs developed by the UCIE Ars Innovatio, of which the University of Alicante is a part. with a clear objective: to apply new technologies to optimize production processes and improve their reliability, explains its general director and professor of the Department of Information Technology and Computing, Juan Manuel Garcia Chamizo.
What those responsible for this project want, according to Chamizo, is to implement a digital technological system that guarantees the traceability of the entire cannabis production process from when the seed is selected until the crop is harvested, so that the origin and path of the plant can be known with absolute reliability, as is already done in other agri-food, livestock and industrial economic sectors. For this, in the research they will work with a variety of industrial hemp, with low levels of THC, grown in a digitized greenhouse at the UCIE facilities.
The results of this research, says its person in charge, may provide important knowledge about the traceability of cannabis and, therefore, greater legal certainty about its production that prevents fraud or ambiguity in the data provided by the producers. And this information could benefit not only the companies that work in the sector, but also the departments of the public administrations in charge of its regulation, underlines the professor. Garcia Chamizo. The Spanish Medicines Agency itself, the body of the Ministry of Health empowered to grant authorizations to grow cannabis for research or medical purposes, could have a very valuable tool for exhaustively monitoring the development of these projects.
In the science park of the University of Alicante where the Ars Innovatio headquarters is located, there is also Medalchemy, a company integrated in a company based in Great Britain, Emmac Life Sciences Group, which last June received authorization from the AEMPS for the production of cannabis and its products for medical and scientific purposes. That was the first authorization to produce medicinal cannabis during the mandate of the new coalition government between PSOE and Podemos, which has not yet undertaken any measure to advance in the regularization of use and consumption in Spain, where the granting of licenses for cultivation it continues to be governed by the Law of Norms on Narcotic Drugs approved during the Francisco Franco regime in 1967 and by a previous Order of 1963 on the cultivation of medicinal plants related to narcotics.
Positive assessment of the Catalan associative movement
The Federation of Cannabis Associations of Catalonia (CATFAC) welcomes the fact that the Generalitat has promoted a research project with cannabis through IRTA and that in this way, according to its spokesperson, Eric Asensio, it continues to be interested in exploring the benefits of this plant and the protection of the rights of its users, as it had already done with the law that it passed in 2017 to regulate cannabis clubs, later annulled by the Constitutional Court for invasion of state powers.
However, Asensio considers that the initiatives of public administrations should not remain in the merely investigative and therapeutic sphere and should reach other fields, such as recreational use of cannabis, which is much more widespread in Spain than medicinal.
After the latest approval published on the AEMPS website on July 13, in Spain there are eight authorizations to grow cannabis for research purposes and another four for production for medical and scientific purposes.