Cannabis is firm’s ‘gateway drug’

Cannabis is firm’s ‘gateway drug’

Medical pot Has also designed a plant to produce a therapeutic enzyme

Postmedia News August 2, 2010

A reputation of any kind, even for a business, is hard to shake.

And when your company is the only federally licensed medical marijuana producer in Canada, that’s the first thing people think of when they hear the company’s name, says Brent Zettl, Prairie Plant Systems Inc.’s president and CEO.

But providing cannabis to patients authorized by Health Canada isn’t the Saskatoonbased company’s only focus, even if sales of the CanniMed herbal treatment account for between 60 and 65 per cent of its revenue, Zettl says.

“It’s kind of like our gateway drug, if I can use that term,” he says in an interview. “It’s our gateway drug to these other compounds that we’re planning to have produced in plants.”

For nearly 10 years, PPS has produced medical marijuana on a contract basis for the federal government. Originally grown in the deep depths of a decommissioned mine in Flin Flon, Man. -known unofficially as the Ganja Mine -PPS moved its hydroponic operation out of the town on the Saskatchewan border when the contract with the mine’s owner ended last summer.

PPS is still growing the marijuana for the government, but the location of the operation must remain confidential under federal regulations,

Casandra Kyle

Zettl says.

“North of the 49th and in between the Atlantic and the Pacific and Arctic oceans, that’s where it is,” he says.

Although the high-profile, legal and still-controversial practice of growing medical marijuana is what PPS is best known for, Zettl hopes the distinction will change over time.

“I think a lot of people forget this is a contract we bid on,” he says. “But we had a bigger purpose in mind. … Although it’s our reputation at this point, we’re trying to change that.”

The company, along with the Plant Biotechnology Institute, has designed a plant to produce a therapeutic enzyme known as adenosine deaminase, or ADA. The enzyme, Zettl explains, is part of the body’s immune system and is deficient in people with severe combined immunodeficiency disease, a condition often referred to as bubble-boy syndrome.

People with the disease must undergo enzyme-replacement therapy, Zettl says, and at the moment, most of the ADA used in the treatment is purified from cow spleens.

PPS’s ADA takes the animal out of the equation.

The cannabis side of the business, he adds, has helped PPS move forward with its therapeutic enzyme studies, with growing conditions, industry standards and pharmaceutical credibility supporting its scientific work.

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