The Thailand Center of Excellence for Life Sciences (TCELS) under the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation, has signed a memorandum of understanding with Bio Genetech International Co., Ltd. and Konjac Farming Community Enterprise, Ban Thung Paem Organic Farming in Mae Hong Son province for the development and manufacture of drugs derived from cannabis (also known as marijuana) and hemp extracts. The aim is to develop herbal and conventional medicines for commercial use and treatment.
The signing ceremony for the five-year collaborative agreement was held Facebook Live on the TCELS THAILAND page on January 13, 2021 at SJ Infinite I Business Complex. The agreement was signed by Dr. Sirasak Teparkum, TCELS Deputy CEO, Mr. Marut Buranasetkul, President & CEO of Bio Genetech International, and Mr. Thanarat Jitpayap, adviser to Konjac Farming Community Enterprise, Ban Thung Paem Organic Farming.
This was followed by a speech from Dr. Sirasak of TCELS on the use of marijuana for medicinal benefits and the industrial sector and a presentation by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Neti Waranuch, Director of Cosmetics and Natural Products Research Center at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Naresuan University on the development of medical marijuana products.
Dr. Sirasak said that TCELS has a mission to incubate research and innovations for the development of medical and healthcare products and services, and translate that research into practical use. TCELS has therefore created a strategic partnership network to jointly develop business and investment with a goal of preparing to enter the integrated medical industry. Through its work, TCELS has enhanced Thailand’s potential to develop natural pharmaceutical products which will support development of local drugs, reduce imports and increase export opportunities.
Thailand boasts a rich biodiversity, which is a wealth and major resource for the country. These natural resources, which include marijuana, have been used to develop traditional medicines for a long time. The Narcotics Act (No. 7) B.E. 2562 identifies those who permitted to grow and produce medical cannabis finished products in the country. The first eligible group consists of government agencies providing research, learning and services in the medical, pharmaceutical, science and agricultural fields. The second group is composed of individuals engaging with government agencies and private higher education institutes that conduct research into and run medical or pharmaceutical study programs. Farmers include community enterprises and agricultural cooperatives working under the government agencies or the private higher education institutes. Others may apply for licenses in line with the provisions outlined in the ministerial regulations. However, all operations must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The amended act came into force on December 14, 2020 following its publication in the Government Gazette and the announcement by the Ministry of Public Health on December 15, 2020. Parts of cannabis and hemp that have been removed from the list of Category 5 narcotics are: 1) the leaves, bark, trunks, fiber, branches and roots; 2) Hemp seeds and oil or extracts; 3) cannabidiol compound with a maximum of 2% tetrahydrocannabinol (active constituent of marijuana) based on weight. Leaves for example, can be a resource to produce shampoo and soap. Cannabis and hemp inflorescence and cannabis seeds, meanwhile, remain classified as Category 5 of the narcotics act.
Dr. Sirisak added that the development of new drugs derived from natural resources requires a new research process that is more complex and takes longer. Working on new drugs requires the participation of specialists in various fields throughout the entire process including clinical trials, product development and drug registration for sale. This applies particularly to the development of health products derived from cannabis and hemp extracts, where supervision starts with the planting standard and runs through the R&D process in line with government regulations.
TCELS has therefore supported Cosmetics and Natural Products Research Center at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Naresuan University, to develop herbal products from cannabis extracts. The university must conduct a clinical study to ensure the products are effective and safe and then apply for drug registration before producing them for commercial use. That support is important given that the pharmaceutical industry requires a collaborative network and huge investment to develop new local drugs.
“TCELS provides significant support to those wanting to develop commercial drugs derived from cannabis and hemp extracts that can be useful for medical purposes or that offer other health benefits. We facilitate product prototypes for organizations to conduct clinical trials and transfer technology for commercial production. Moreover, TCELS will help coordinate with the government agencies concerned, support product development from upstream to downstream as well as promote business matching in the country and abroad," said Dr. Sirisak.
Mr. Marut Buranasetkul, President & CEO of Bio Genetech International, a biotech facility platform, said that the company signed the five-year agreement with TCELS and strategic partners with the objective of commercially developing herbal and conventional medicines derived from cannabis and hemp extracts.
Bio Genetech International is responsible for preparing a policy and development plan to produce drugs and other health products. Konjac Farming Community Enterprise, Ban Thung Paem Organic Farming will supply cannabis and hemp as the initial substances.
Mr. Marut added that in case of sub projects based on the agreement, the three parties will sign an additional contract on a case-by-case basis, which will include the project plan, operational framework of each party, the period of operation, intellectual property management and technology transfer.
Mr. Thanarat Jitpayap, an adviser to Konjac Farming Community Enterprise, Ban Thung Paem Organic Farming, said that the enterprise will provide varieties of cannabis and hemp, plant and cultivate parts as initial resources to extract two bioactive compounds: CBD (Cannabidiol) and THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). Further, the enterprise will plan and prepare to supply resources for commercial production.
“The Konjac Farming Community Enterprise, Ban Thung Paem Organic Farming has obtained a license to legally grow organic cannabis that meets international standards for medical purposes. Thanks to a team of experts and the varieties of cannabis collected, we apply innovation and local knowledge to develop natural products from cannabis and hemp for medical use. We are determined to become a leader in the development of products from cannabis extracts both in Thailand and internationally,” Mr. Thanarat concluded.