Welcome to OurCrowd's "Ask Morris Anything" session! Liz Cohen, OurCrowd's Director of Marketing, will moderate this live Q&A; session with Dr. Morris Laster, OurCrowd Venture Partner and medical technology advisor.
Welcome everybody! First, let's introduce today's guest.
Dr. Laster is a physician with over 25 years of experience in the biopharmaceutical industry and with expertise in identification, development and management of advanced biomedical drugs and technologies. Dr. Laster is the Venture Partner responsible for Medtech investments at OurCrowd; he has founded and/or managed six companies that have gone public in the US, UK and Israel. He invented a novel device to access the circulatory system through the bone marrow, which was approved for development beginning in 2015.
Hi Morris, thank you for joining us today. The first question is to clear the air on medical marijuana: people tend to be skeptical; what makes this a serious medical option? Who is benefiting from it, in a medical capacity?
Hi Liz- thank you!
Marijuana has been used to treat a variety of medical conditions around the world for thousands of years. Currently, there are only two cannabis derived drugs. Sativex for MS induced neuropathic pain and spasticity, or Marinol for cancer treatment induced nausea and vomiting , and AIDS cachexia.
However, there is widespread agreement that cannabis can be used in various pain conditions. There is a well based "feeling" that it can be used in a long list of indications in a wide variety of neurological, immunological, metabolic and oncological diseases. However, the major limitation on figuring out where and how to treat with cannabis is variability of the dosing due to smoking and source material.
That is why Syqe's metered dose inhaler essentially druggifies and standardizes cannabis enabling well controlled clinical trials, and physician comfort to utilize a drug like treatment. Well-controlled clinical trials are the key to learning which diseases can actually benefit from cannabis and in which actual dosage.
Let's dive deeper into the main challenges for medical marijuana becoming an every day option for patients at home or in hospitals.
To date, cannabis has not been FDA approved because of the limitation you mentioned - can you expand and explain more about that limitation and hurdle that must be overcome in the medical cannabis industry?
The most effective way to "take" cannabis is via smoking. While the two major components are CBD and THC smoking releases hundreds of other molecules that are synergistic with CBD and THC. Additionally, oral ingestion of cannabis is very poor.
There are tremendous dosing variability due to individual smoking differences and plant material. As well as the potential for recreational drug abuse. Syqe's metered dose inhaler has clinically demonstrated stable PK levels of THC and CBD (two of the main active ingredients in marijuana) across patients. The cartridge format and cloud based command and control allows the physician to effectively dose a patient and recommend proper treatment protocol and eliminates abuse potential.
Thanks. Here's a question from Danielle H: With the Syqe inhaler, is there a specific strain of marijuana that is required? Does the cannabis come from specific companies, or is it dependent on the health provider?
Great Question! The strains are selected for their CBD:THC ratio and obtained from qualified sources that grow medical marijuana. The plants are then prepared with a proprietary process and inserted into the proprietary heating element, packaged into a cartridge which is labeled and controlled through the metered device and the cloud based physician interface.
Hi Brian! The Company already has Israeli approval as a pre-loaded device for use in hospitals. The Company initially plans to continue for wider Israeli approval as well as a state by state roll out in the US to be followed by full fledged FDA approval. Physician and treatment center receptivity has been excellent as the device truly solves the major issues involved with dosing and standardization of dose. Patient feedback has also been excellent!
Here's another, from Zack M: I can't help but feel that until cannabis loses its taboo-ness, that it is still shunned as a serious investment. That's fine right now -- that enables an early stage, contrarian investor to get in. But wouldn't that put a damper on exit opportunities?
Hi Zack- Thank you for asking! The current medical marijuana industry is estimated at $2bn in the US alone for 2015! This is when usage is haphazard, unorganized and like you said taboo. Imagine what would happen if you got to convert this loosely associated usage/network and converted it to a drug like any other drug? It is easy to imagine that those numbers skyrocket. That is exactly what the Syqe device is designed to do. The metered dose capability converts cannabis into a drug just like any other, and thereby eliminates the taboo element.
Sounds encouraging. And now a longer-term question about investing in this industry from Brian H: Syqe has a great product. The question is whether their plan for market entry is realistic considering the many unknowns when dealing with regulatory agencies such as the FDA. Their sales targets seem unrealistic in terms of timing as it will likely take longer for approvals and then broad use and acceptance in the medical community. It will take time for the "pot stigma" to be replaced by more enlightened thinking. Doctors for the most part are conservative by nature and the clinical studies will likely not be significant breakthrough therapy (may well show benefit but not breakthrough therapy). How does the Company deal with these challenges with the resources it has available upon completion of this finance round?
Hi Brian H- The best way to replace the stigma and encourage physician acceptance is to treat cannabis as a drug like the Syqe inhaler does. When studies are done in a controlled manner with discrete dosing regimens then physicians can treat Syqe-cannabis like any other drug.
As for the regulatory approach, the state by state approach reduces risk, allows for broader acceptance and enables early income to support development.
Additionally, it is my belief that the metered dose capability along with the physician command and control of dosing and usage are exactly the kinds of controls that regulatory agencies are looking for and especially to counter the pressures for widespread legalization without control.
Hi Brad F- THC is the psychoactive substance in cannabis. Smoking too much within a short period of time can cause psychoactive levels of THC. Syqe's controlled metered dosing ensures reproducible pharmcokinetics.
It is this stable PK profile that is regulated and controlled by the patients physician ensures that a patient utilizing the Syqe device will not achieve psychoactive levels
Can you speak to the Israel aspect of all this? Syqe Medical, the company that develops the Syqe inhaler, is based in Israel. The device is already being used in Israeli hospitals. What role do you see Israel as having in advancing medical marijuana as a viable treatment option for patients around the world?
Israel is one of the world leaders in the development of medical marijuana. Hebrew University Professor Raphi Mechoulam is the worlds leading cannabis researchers so it is no surprise that the Syqe device was developed here!
The PK trials were performed in Israel and the device received approval for in hospital use here in Israel. Israel is at the vanguard of medicalizing marijuana and the home team advantage of Syqe's development in Israel will just help it grow!
Thank you so much Morris, this was an enlightening conversation - and thanks to our audience who asked some solid questions. It looks like there are plenty of reasons to get energized by the potential of the medical marijuana market.
If you're interested in finding out more about why smart investors are looking into the medical cannabis industry, or want to learn more about what Syqe Medical is doing, visit this page. For investment opportunities, visit OurCrowd.
We look forward to hosting more conversations with OurCrowd industry experts and guests. Stay tuned!