Israel Offers Bulgaria Collaboration on Medical Cannabis R&D

Business | April 17, 2015, Friday // 08:03|  views

Photo: BGNES

Israel is extending a hand to Bulgaria for cooperation on the research of medical cannabis with the prospect of turning it into a successful industry, a group of academicals from both countries said at a meeting organized by the Israeli Ambassador in Sofia.

“What we propose is to collaborate and bring the technology we developed in Israel in terms of genetic materials, in terms of sophisticated sorting devices in terms of THC levels [THC is one of the most active ingredients in cannabis], relative humidity, to make sure that every time a patient receives medical cannabis, it is going to be with the exact dosage of active ingredients,” according to Prof Oded Shoseyov, a faculty member of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem whose research is in plant molecular biology protein engineering and nano-biotechnology.

“Even Europe started to move into that very slowly. Bulgaria is in the middle of the continent. With huge resource of land, with my experience with your scientists you have everything you need to take it from the level of an illegal industry to a successful business story of Bulgaria.” Prof Shoseyov elaborated that, apart from creating jobs and bringing revenues, the project might move to the direction of active pharmaceutical ingredients and this span further into the medical industry.

Bulgarian scientists, to whom the Israeli hand is now extended for cooperation, have yet to respond, according to the words of Dr Tony Spassov, the Dean of the Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy at the Sofia University.

Dr Spassov told Novinite that whether the Bulgarian scientists will accept the proposal or not is a question of a second step: “to see what both sides will do and to see how it will work on an expert level, and then to engage the ministries of economy and agriculture to see the whole cycle. This is an idea coming from yesterday.” But he added such collaboration would be more interesting for Bulgaria, since “part of the intellectual property will remain here, and market realization will be made easier thanks to the Israeli opportunities.”

Israel’s Ambassador to Sofia Shaul Kamisa Raz opined that such a project could generate revenues for the state, provide for economic and financial stability, and help Bulgaria become a world-leading country in the field. The guests argued that within the timeframe of 2-3 years a country like Bulgaria, with a combination of support from government and businesses, can take a significant lead in the global medical cannabis market.

The proposal comes a day after a Bulgarian-Israeli forum dedicated to Bulgaria's prospects of enhancing its innovation capacities. 

Bulgaria Should Act in Line with Changing Attitudes, Israel Believes

“Europeans tend to react slower to trends than the US, and innovation many times comes on the first wave when the risk is taken. This is an opportunity for Bulgaria to surprise everyone in the region, because all the key success factors are present,” said Guy Setton, an economist whose company’s name, CanTech, is derived from “Cannabis Technology”. This also reflects the fact that the global market is up and running and will be worth an estimated USD 20 B this decade alone. About 22 states in the US have legalized medical cannabis alongside Canada, Israel and several countries in Europe like Switzerland, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands.

In Israel in particular, the sector has already been bubbling. As scientists in the 60s and 70s in the country were trying to figure what makes it work, one of the most active ingredients, THC, was identified 40 years ago by a team at the Hebrew University.

However, for Prof Shoseyov it was much later that he discovered a few years ago his interest in the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Recalling how he personally started researching it, he told journalists about a story he had seen on an Israeli TV show: “a cancer patient that suffered from nausea because of the chemotherapy. The guy looked like a dead person, trying to vomit all the time, and then he was given medical cannabis. A few minutes later he was a totally different person and I realized this should be investigated. Meanwhile [medical cannabis] was legalized in Israel, but [it was] because of that show… Today you have 20 000 patients in Israel that receive medical cannabis by prescription - and it changed their lives.”

The professor argued that medical cannabis has huge potential to bring a better life to many patients that suffer from pain. “It is not going to cure diseases, or will cure very few, but its probably the best painkiller that there is.” On the other hand, this fast-growing industry is facing the problem of lack of standardization, with patients who are prescribed cannabis failing to get the same quality every month. “This is unacceptable in medication. You ask what is the reason and it is very simple: the cannabis industry's main target was to stay away from the police; to go underground. But it's a flower. People don't grow flowers like that.”

“Medical cannabis has been around for centuries… In fact the last century, the 21st century, is an abnormal period of time when cannabis was not made available and that was simply because of business interests in the United States,” Dr Setton pointed out making a reference to the discovery of nylon in the middle of the century and the widely cited need to eliminate competition from the cannabis variety of hemp which was used in the industry for fibers.

Israel is well aware that the subject bears negative connotations in Bulgaria. But Ambassador Shaul Kamisa Raz made clear that he would do “what is possible” and will contact the President, Prime Minister and ministers which could be related to the project to make sure that authorities understand the positive sides of such innovations. “Benefits should be seen in both academical and market sense, instead of waiting for the industry to develop another twenty years,” he concluded.

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Tags: Shoseyov, Setton, Spassov, medical cannabis, Bulgaria, Israel, Hebrew University, Shaul Kamisa Raz, Tony Spassov, Oded Shoseyov, Guy Setton, innovation, cannabis


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