Article by Alex MacPherson, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix
Seventy-five people work in the building, but apart from a couple offices and rows of desks, it’s still mostly empty.
Rows of cubicles wait for workers and a warren of laboratories is filled with untouched scientific equipment. A bio-processing and extraction plant across the street is still a construction site. Cameras in the ceiling watch as nothing much happens.
Brent Zettl expects the place to look dramatically different in a year or so, once his second medical cannabis company is producing 50-millilitre bottles of oil and working toward clinical trials for the cannabinoid pharmaceuticals it hopes to develop.
Described by his employees as a visionary and the godfather of Canadian medical cannabis, Zettl founded CanniMed Therapeutics Inc. — the country’s first licensed medical marijuana producer — which was acquired in 2018 for $1.1 billion.
Three days later, he started Zyus Life Sciences Inc., a company he hopes can have a “transformational impact” on medicine by proving the usefulness of cannabis-based drugs in treating the symptoms of a whole host of diseases and conditions.
“Cannabinoid formulations have the potential to make, I would say, very large changes in the medical space, the pharmaceutical space,” said Zettl, who grew up near Kronau, Sask., in an interview at the company’s Innovation Place facility.
“It’s almost disruptive,” he continued, referring to the possibility that cannabis-based pharmaceuticals could ultimately supplant opiates — a class of drugs he described as a failure — as the first choice for pain relief.
That possibility is years away, however.
While Zyus has accomplished in 20 months what would have taken years without a team of 35 dedicated employees who followed him from CanniMed, Zettl is under no illusions about how much work remains to be done.
Not only must he raise hundreds of millions of dollars — a complete clinical trial can cost up to $200 million, he said — but the company needs to overcome what he called a “negative bias” toward cannabis-based drugs in medicine.
That will obviously take plenty of work, but there is no shortage of believers. Besides his dedicated employees, Zettl said he succeeded in raising $50 million from private investors last year, on top of the $25 million private placement Zyus reported in 2018.