In Con­ver­sa­tion with Med­i­cal Cannabis Pioneer Brent Zettl

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2020 marks the 20th an­niver­sary of the court rul­ing that Cana­di­ans have a con­sti­tu­tional right to use cannabis as a medicine. Long be­fore the le­gal­iza­tion of recre­ational cannabis, Canada had an es­tab­lished gov­ern­men­treg­u­lated cannabis in­dus­try solely fo­cused on serv­ing the needs of med­i­cal cannabis pa­tients. Over the past two decades, this in­dus­try has grown and evolved to keep up with the needs of pa­tients, new in­no­va­tions – and to re­flect the new reg­u­la­tory frame­work that al­lows for both med­i­cal and recre­ational cannabis use in Canada.

As we look back on 20 years of med­i­cal cannabis in Canada, Zoomer sat down with a true pioneer of the in­dus­try, Brent Zettl, CEO of Saska­toon-based ZYUS Life Sciences to learn about the progress he has seen in his two decades in the in­dus­try, and how he and ZYUS are work­ing to im­prove lives through plant-made ther­a­peu­tics.

Q: You were one of the first to en­ter the cannabis space in Canada and have been in­volved for 20 years. What makes you so pas­sion­ate about this in­dus­try?

Brent: “I’ve al­ways seen ex­tra­or­di­nary po­ten­tial in cannabi­noids – the com­pounds within the cannabis plant – for use in medicine. What makes me pas­sion­ate about this in­dus­try is help­ing pa­tients. Hear­ing how much their life, or that of a loved one, has been trans­formed is the best mo­ti­va­tion to keep mov­ing for­ward our re­search into plant-made medicine.”

Q: How much progress do you think the med­i­cal cannabis in­dus­try has made since 2000?

Brent: “Even af­ter 20 years, the mis­sion is not over yet. The govern­ment’s Pain Task Force re­cently re­ported that 1 in 5 Cana­di­ans lives with chronic pain – un­til we can help ad­dress and im­prove qual­ity of life for these 7+ mil­lion peo­ple and the millions of other peo­ple around the world who live with pain or rely on opi­oids, we still have work to do. Peo­ple are sick and tired of be­ing sick and tired.”

Q: What do you think the big­gest change in the in­dus­try over the past two decades has been?

Brent: “In the early 2000s there was one le­gal cannabis mar­ket – the med­i­cal mar­ket. Now there are recre­ational, well­ness and med­i­cal mar­kets. While this growth has pro­vided more choice, it has also opened the door for peo­ple to try to ad­dress their symp­toms with recre­ational prod­ucts that are not de­signed as medicine. This shift has made re­search and de­vel­op­ment even more im­por­tant for com­pa­nies like ZYUS – we have to go fur­ther with re­search, clin­i­cal tri­als and stud­ies to de­velop a sci­ence-based ap­proach to plant-made ther­a­peu­tics to move for­ward the un­der­stand­ing of cannabi­noids.”

Q: Can you tell us a bit about ZYUS and the com­pany’s mis­sion?

Brent: “ZYUS is solely fo­cused on serv­ing the needs of med­i­cal pa­tients. We do not grow cannabis, in­stead we ex­tract com­pounds from the plant for use in med­i­cal for­mu­la­tions. Our mis­sion is to help all pa­tients im­prove qual­ity of life through the power of plant­made medicine, and to be a world leader in in­no­va­tive cannabi­noid­based ther­a­peu­tics. Part of this in­cludes in­vest­ment in re­search and clin­i­cal tri­als to help im­prove un­der­stand­ing of the po­ten­tial of cannabi­noids in health­care.”

Q: Are there any spe­cific ar­eas of medicine that ZYUS is fo­cus­ing on?

Brent: “ZYUS’ re­search is fo­cused in two ar­eas: pain man­age­ment (chronic and neu­ro­pathic) and brain dis­or­ders. The opi­oid cri­sis drove home the need for more re­search and de­vel­op­ment into medicines that of­fer other treat­ment op­tions to man­age pain – and our team of ex­perts in re­search and de­vel­op­ment and pain man­age­ment are work­ing to de­velop cannabi­noid-based for­mu­la­tions to help pa­tients im­prove their qual­ity of life. We are also work­ing with the Univer­sity of Saskatchew­an to de­ter­mine

the im­pact of cannabi­noids on brain dis­or­ders, as more ev­i­dence­based re­search and de­vel­op­ment is needed in this field.”

Q: What would you say to readers who are hes­i­tant to try med­i­cal cannabis as a treat­ment op­tion?

Brent: “Talk to your health­care prac­ti­tioner! Seek­ing qual­i­fied med­i­cal ad­vice on whether cannabi­noid ther­apy is right for you is the first step.”

Q: We’ve heard that ZYUS is col­lab­o­rat­ing on a vac­cine for COVID-19. Can you tell us more about this?

Brent: “This is a great ex­am­ple of the po­ten­tial of plant-made ther­a­peu­tics to im­prove lives. ZYUS has best-in-class tech­nol­ogy to re­pro­duce spe­cific pro­teins in plants and ex­tract those pro­teins for use in medicine.”

“As the COVID-19 virus swept across the world, we quickly re­al­ized that our tech­nol­ogy could be used to help sci­en­tists and re­searchers un­der­stand if plants can be lever­aged in the global fight against COVID-19. This sum­mer, our team worked to re­pro­duce pro­teins in Ni­co­tiana ben­themi­ana (a va­ri­ety of the tobacco plant) and ex­tract them for de­vel­op­ment of a po­ten­tial vac­cine.”

Q: What is the most im­por­tant thing that our readers should know about ZYUS?

Brent: “In­tegrity is key to ev­ery­thing ZYUS does. Through­out our team of sci­en­tists, re­searchers, and health­care prac­ti­tion­ers, qual­ity and in­tegrity guide our re­search and mis­sion to im­prove lives by ad­vanc­ing the un­der­stand­ing of cannabi­noids and their med­i­cal po­ten­tial.”

Q: Where do you see the fu­ture of med­i­cal cannabis go­ing?

Brent: “A re­search and de­vel­op­ment led ap­proach, cre­at­ing ev­i­dence-based for­mu­la­tions through clin­i­cal tri­als is the fu­ture of the in­dus­try, and our fo­cus at ZYUS. Sci­ence has barely scratched the sur­face of cannabi­noids and how to lever­age them to treat a wide range of con­di­tions. ZYUS is work­ing to har­ness the power of these cannabi­noids to make life more liv­able for every­one and we have in­vested in med­i­cal re­search and clin­i­cal tri­als that will po­ten­tially es­tab­lish new treat­ment guide­lines and set stan­dards for the ef­fec­tive use of cannabi­noids in health­care.”

Q: What next for you and ZYUS?

Brent: “ZYUS’ short term fo­cus is get­ting much-needed re­lief in the hands of pa­tients. But that is just the begin­ning for ZYUS as we work to ex­pand the un­der­stand­ing and po­ten­tial of plant-made medicine to trans­form pa­tients’ lives both here in Canada, and around the world.”

“What makes me pas­sion­ate about this in­dus­try is help­ing pa­tients.”

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