Smoking-hot biotech sparks key cannabis contract

Trace amounts: Applied DNA Sciences and Canadian pharma supplier TheraCann International will create new technologies to molecular-tag and track legal cannabis supplies around the globe.

It’s another new high for Applied DNA Sciences.

Just days after introducing a new satellite laboratory in India to service its growing Asian-Pacific customer base, the Stony Brook-based biotech lit up again Thursday, announcing a new contract to develop molecular tracking systems for a worldwide network of legal cannabis supplies.

The two-year, $1 million development and marketing agreement with Canadian supplier TheraCann International Benchmark Corp. – which provides turn-key pharmaceutical solutions through operations in Alberta, Australia, Panama City and Colorado – will create “the first seed-to-sale cannabis tracking system combining molecular tagging and blockchain technologies,” according to Applied DNA.

Blockchain tech – used to transfer cryptocurrencies and other digital assets across peer-to-peer networks – is at the heart of TheraCann’s Enterprise Resource Platform for legal cannabis operations. Applied DNA will develop new protocols to tag and authenticate cannabis throughout the supply chain and seamlessly integrate the tracking data into the blockchain-based ERP.

It’s another enormous technical challenge for Applied DNA scientists – and another golden opportunity for a thriving biotech on an extended hot streak, including that new lab in Ahmedabad, a promising vertical producing DNA strands for researchers, new connections with Turkish and West African fertilizer markets and a fresh foray into pharmaceuticals (all while fighting crime in Ireland and elsewhere).

As with those other positive developments, Applied DNA’s TheraCann deal was forged by popular demand, with the rapid global adoption of legalized marijuana “accelerating the need to secure and truly validate cannabis supply chains,” the Stony Brook company said.

“The legal global cannabis industry is a complex supply chain and, therefore, a natural fit for our proven technologies,” James Hayward, Applied DNA’s president and CEO, said Thursday. “Our molecular tag creates an immutable link between the authenticity of goods and the authenticity of digital transactions to serve as a unique and forensic identifier.”

James Hayward: Cannabis kingpin.

His scientists, Hayward added, are eager to get cracking on new protocols that “enhance traceability in the expanding legal cannabis market.”

They should have ample opportunity. According to an executive summary by San Francisco-based Arcview Market Research, an investor-resource group focused on the international cannabis industry, the legal cannabis market in North America alone weighed in around $6.7 billion in 2017 – and is projected to grow past $20 billion by 2021.

Superseding federal restrictions, eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for recreational use, while 29 states (plus the nation’s capital) have legalized cannabis for medical uses. According to Forbes, another eight states are expected to legalize cannabis in 2018, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week announced funding for a state task force to study the possibility of legalizing recreational marijuana in New York.

Beyond U.S. borders, weed is spreading even faster: Federal law in 15 countries already permits medical marijuana uses. Canada, where TheraCann International launched in 2004 as Benchmark Analytical Laboratories Ltd., has operated a federal medical cannabis program since 2001 and is expected to legalize recreational marijuana usage this year.

With the green tide spreading, authenticating supply chains becomes paramount – and the tech coming out of the Applied DNA/TheraCann partnership will become a primary tool to that end, according to TheraCann Chief Operating Officer Chris Bolton, who senses a different kind of green in the companies’ mutual future.

“The platform under development … will be uniquely suited to meet the growing demand for true forensic-level seed-to-sale tracking and diversion-control systems,” Bolton said in a statement. “As each new state or country legalizes medicinal or recreational cannabis, it creates an opportunity for the broad-scale adoption of our technologies.”

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