Willow Biosciences Inc. (TSX: WLLW) (OTCQX: CANSF) is a leading developer of biosynthetic production systems for high-value, plant-derived active pharmaceutical ingredients (“APIs”) and intermediates. The company’s cannabidiol (“CBD”) yeast-based biosynthesis program produces a high yield, ultrapure, low-cost and scalable manufacturing solution for pharmaceutical, food, beverage and personal care consumers of CBD.
The company is headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Willow’s proprietary yeast-based lab strains produce CBD, tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”), and cannabigerol (“CBG”), as well as certain minor and novel cannabinoids.
The company’s expertise in the esoteric field of biosynthesis and in delivering commercial fermentation pathways for the production of pharmaceutical-grade compounds grew from its origins in opiate research. Willow recently delivered a de novo biosynthesis pathway in yeast for thebaine, a key precursor API used as a feedstock in the manufacture of semi-synthetic opiates such as naloxone (used to reverse opioid overdose) and several common analgesics. Led by Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Peter Facchini, Willow’s research team discovered and patented numerous previously unknown genes coding for core catalytic pathway enzymes, as well as a number of additional non-pathway, yet commercially-essential, accessory genes.
Utilizing this proven synthetic biology platform, Willow’s research team has already begun producing cannabinoids at lab scale, using yeast as the host cell “factory.” This biosynthetic fermentation-based process is capable of producing pharmaceutical grade CBD in 10 days – far less time than traditional plant-based extraction methods.
Willow anticipates its technology can be scaled to produce hundreds of kilograms per batch of cannabinoid API at less than $1,000 per kilogram, thus costing approximately 60% less than current chemical synthesis methods and 90% less than conventional plant-based extraction methods.
Willow and Noramco Inc., the world’s largest producer of high-quality synthetic cannabinoid APIs and other controlled substance APIs for the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry, have an exclusive, worldwide Joint Development Agreement (“JDA”) to design a yeast-based biosynthesis platform for the production and distribution of a highly pure CBD isolate.
The mutually exclusive agreement calls for Willow to be responsible for optimizing yeast strains in a biosynthetic process to generate ultrapure CBD at high yield and substantially lower cost compared to current methods. Noramco will leverage its decades of experience in producing and delivering CBD and pharmaceutical APIs by being responsible for the scale-up, regulatory submission, marketing and distribution of products manufactured under the JDA.
Each company will invest comparable funds, will retain the intellectual property associated with their respective scopes of work and share equally in gross profits from sales of products manufactured under the JDA.
The agreement with Noramco (http://nnw.fm/Mz1vW) addresses the increasing demand for CBD-based APIs and other CBD-infused products by pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, consumer packaged goods, beverages and other industry sectors.
The U.S. market potential of cannabinoids is significant, with industry analysts projecting $50 billion in cannabinoid-based pharmaceutical sales and $16 billion in CBD consumer goods retail sales by 2025. As of June 2019, 34 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands have legalized cannabis for medical use. Another 13 states and territories have approved recreational cannabis for adult use while other states are considering similar measures.
The cannabinoid API market continues to evolve with CBD and other cannabinoid-based treatment options currently in clinical trials for indications such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, schizophrenia, cancer treatments and other challenging unmet medical conditions.
Willow is fully funded after raising $29 million via private placement and $8 million in exercised warrants by Tuatara Capital Fund II, L.P. Proceeds of the funding will be used to enhance the existing laboratory space in Calgary and Vancouver, Canada, and in San Francisco, California. The company anticipates exiting 2020 with $15.8 million in cash.
President and CEO Trevor Peters is an experienced executive who co-founded four startup companies in the past 15 years. He has raised over $1 billion in equity and debt financings at various stages of corporate development and has been integral to successful transactions totaling over $4 billion on sale. Mr. Peters previously was chief financial officer at Caracal Energy Inc., which sold to Glencore plc in 2014 for $1.8 billion.
Chief Financial Officer Travis Doupe has over 18 years of experience in financial leadership roles, principally in the international oil and gas industry, where he provided corporate strategic direction while overseeing all aspects of financial operations. Mr. Doupe is the treasurer and a member of the board of directors of the Canada Council for the Americas – Alberta and holds a CA-CPA designation and earned a bachelor’s degree in management from the University of Calgary.
Dr. Peter Facchini, Chief Scientific Officer, has been professor of plant biochemistry in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Calgary since 1995. He is recognized internationally as a leader in plant specialized metabolite biosynthesis. Dr. Facchini is the Canada Research Chair in Plant Metabolic Processes Biotechnology and has published more than 150 research papers and scholarly articles. Dr. Facchini received a PhD from the University of Toronto and conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Kentucky and Université de Montréal.
Dr. Joseph Tucker, Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors, holds more than 20 issued or pending patents and is a member of the Board of Directors of BioAlberta. He has extensive senior leadership experience in multiple public and private biotech companies. Dr. Tucker received a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Calgary.