CITY-TV innovator's venture eyes potential of cannabis's medicinal value
April 05, 2006
Leonard Zehr, Globe and Mail (Canada)Moses Znaimer, the media guru who revolutionized the face of television with urban, interactive programming, is now gearing up to bring marijuana-based drugs to Canada's medicine cabinets.
"In our opinion, the situation today is similar to the emergence of poppy-derived medicines 100 years ago that has given us codeine and other drugs," he said at a briefing yesterday to publicly launch Cannasat Therapeutics Inc.
"Cannasat stands at the convergence of science, health care, government policy and evolving social norms with respect to the therapeutic potential of marijuana and cannabis-based medicines."
Mr. Znaimer, 63, stepped down as president and executive producer of 17 CHUM TV stations in 2003, after a 32-year career, to try his hand at something different.
Mr. Znaimer and retailer Joseph Mimran, of Alfred Sung and Club Monaco fame, became investors in Cannasat in 2004 after the drug developer was founded by merchant bank Hill & Gertner Capital Corp.
Cannasat went public on the TSX Venture Exchange this year through a type of reverse takeover of with Lonsdale Public Ventures Inc., a capital pool company. The stock closed yesterday at 40 cents, up 15 cents.
In the past two years, Cannasat has raised $6.5-million in financing and acquired a minority stake in Saskatoon-based Prairie Plant Systems Inc., the only government-licensed grower and distributor of medicinal cannabis in Canada. Its crop is grown in a Flin Flon, Man., mineshaft.
Stressing that medicinal marijuana is not about getting high or getting a buzz, Mr. Znaimer said "it's about function," referring to generally accepted anecdotal evidence that the drug can provide rapid pain relief.
Indeed, Cannasat's director of public relations, Sara Irwin, who was diagnosed with cancer of the hip and pelvis 17 years ago, is now a licensed medical marijuana user and said the drug has "improved the quality of my life greatly."
Moreover, Mr. Znaimer, who is chairman of Cannasat and owns a 5-per-cent stake, said a pain pill developed from cannabis would go a long way to eliminating the adverse side effects of traditional drugs, such as Celebrex, and the "social stigma of smoking marijuana."
But don't expect to see it behind the local pharmacy counter any time soon.
The company is still formulating a delivery technology at its lab at the University of Alberta that is needed to transport cannabis in the bloodstream.
It hopes to begin early stage testing in humans by the end of 2007, the start of a typical five-year process to obtain regulatory approval, said chief executive officer David Hill.
Chief medical officer Umar Syed said the company initially is targeting pain and nausea associated with chemotherapy and AIDS-associated wasting disease, and neuropathy pain associated with diabetes, AIDS and shingles.
In the meantime, Mr. Znaimer said Cannasat is launching a media and information campaign about safe and legal methods of acquiring cannabis as a medicine in Canada, one of only three countries in the world where that's possible.
"Many Canadians are not aware of the program and many who use it as a medicine have to get it . . . on the street and expose themselves to a process that is criminal, paying too much and never getting the same quality twice," he said,
With a doctor's approval, patients can apply to Health Canada to become registered card-carrying users under the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations. First shipments began in 2003 and are couriered monthly to users. Medicinal marijuana sells for about $5 a gram, about a third of its street cost.