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Spot light on NZ MC companies – Rua Bioscience

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Q1. Who are you, where are you based and what do you do?

Rua Bioscience is a medicinal cannabis company from Tairāwhiti. Founded in 2016 initially as a subsidiary of charitable company Hikurangi Enterprises, Rua Bioscience aspires to be a global innovator in cannabis breeding and genetics, cultivation and product innovation. The company has two licensed cultivation sites near Ruatoria and a medicines manufacturing facility with administration offices nearby in Gisborne.

Our team now comprises more than 20 plant breeders, growers, scientists, product developers and production engineers who have expertise in the process of turning phyto-cannabinoids into proven safe and effective medicines.

Rua Bioscience works to deepen our collective understanding of compounds derived from cannabis and their therapeutic effects, with a strong focus on quality, sustainability and innovation. The medical goals of the company are supported by our mission to heal the people and heal the land.

Rua Bioscience is the first company in New Zealand to be granted a licence to cultivate pharmaceutical-grade cannabis, the first to legally import high THC seeds for planting by the company and one of the first to be licensed for outdoor cultivation of non-hemp varieties.

Q2. Will you offer compassionate discounts, (community service card holders, pensioners etc)?

We want to ensure equity of access. Affordable access usually requires the medicine to be approved by the regulator based on evidence collected through clinical trials, so clinical research is a priority for us. Shane LeBrun has been working with us on a variety of compassionate access options. We are looking at starting in Tairāwhiti and partnering with health service providers in the region, giving back to the community that helped us get started. We will be in a position to provide more details once we have our first products assessed by the Ministry of Health and available for supply.

Q3. Do you have plans for trials regarding chronic pain?

We have discussed options for pain trials with our Medical Advisor, Dr Ethan Russo. We are also looking at studies focused on specific conditions with pain, such as arthritis, migraines and other neuropathic pain. Pain trials are notoriously difficult to account for all the variables, so are often limited to observational studies which don’t prove that Cannabis works better than X Y or Z. At Rua we are committed to designing high quality studies/trials that give patients and prescribers confidence in the safety and efficacy of our products.

Q4. What certification programs, i.e. organic and others, are you or the industry planning to belong to?

Rua Bioscience is the first New Zealand company to join the Global Cannabis Partnership (GCP) and to develop an internal action plan to articulate our commitments across all 12 Impact Areas within the GCP Responsible Cannabis Framework.

We are also a founding member of the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council. The Council has a wide range of initiatives underway to establish standards for the industry from laboratory analytical standards to workforce skills standards, ethical advertising standards and an industry Code of Conduct that our nearly 30 members can be trusted to operate in all aspects of their business with great integrity.

Rua is the first cannabis company to be a member of the New Zealand Sustainable Business Network, a member of global drug policy advocacy organisation FAAAT, a member of the D37 Committee on Cannabis within the global industry standards body ASTM. We are seeking organic certification for eligible cultivation sites and our first crops were planted on land going through the organic certification process.

Q5. How do you manage your pest/weed regime?

We use cultivation techniques based on biological controls instead of synthetic pesticides and herbicides. Our director of cultivation, Jeremy Plumb, is recognised as a global expert on biological controls and precision horticulture for cannabis. Jeremy has developed sound cultural practices for the highest discipline in cultivation environments and provides a wealth of experience to compliment the experience of our team of local growers who are familiar with common pests and diseases in the Tairāwhiti context.

Q6. Will you your plants see the light of the sun, and will they be grown in soil? vs indoor & hydroponic growing

We are currently growing plants fully indoors and fully outdoors – one of our key goals is prove that pharmaceutical cannabis can be produced outdoors but we also need fully controlled indoor environments for our breeding programmes and certain product specifications.

Q7. Are you planning on including animals who would benefit from CBD for various ailments eg. epilepsy?

We have been collaborating with an animal health expert who has an interest in animal medicine development but initially we are focused on the development of human health products.

Q8. Are you focusing on any particular terpenes?

We are very interested in non-myrcene dominant varieties and products, and particularly interested in varieties and products high in beta-caryophyllene.

Q9. Do you have plans for phase 2 trials, if so, for what conditions?

Yes, in fact we have the opportunity to collaborate on a nationwide Phase Three clinical in a large population, however we are not at a stage to publicly share details yet.

Q10. CO2 or Ethanol extraction?

CO2 SFE and related post-extraction refinement initially but probably other options.

Q11. Will you have a recommended retail price so that customers can have price certainty and consistency as well as setting a reasonable price?

We expect to provide a RRP.

Q12. What is your best yielding variety so far?

Yield is an important economic consideration, but a wide range of other characteristics are just as important. Our current licences provide for the cultivation of 10,500 medicinal cannabis plants for research purposes. Clones are currently being evaluated from a selection of superior mother plants as the next stage of Rua’s Breeding Research Programme. We have basic data on hundreds of plants to date with a range of chemotypic inventories and morphological expressions. We are daily making breeding and production selections based on priorities for current and future product plans.

Q13. What strains will be available now and in the future?

As a business with a focus on the commercialisation of unique genetics, our Breeding Research Programme is one of our most important activities and the genetics we are accessing some of our most important assets.  Rua will contribute to global plant knowledge through the development of unique cultivars. We are working with global breeding experts to characterise and cross imported international genetics with local time-tested varieties, in collaboration with leading domestic and international research institutions.

Q14. How is GMP tested?

This information is available from the Medsafe website.

Q15. What does a typical day in the office look like at the moment?

Very busy, our team is working hard to make sure Rua Bioscience is match-fit at the starting line, when commercial licences become available in April 2020. Our new facilities open this month, so a lot of work is going into getting the spaces ready and machines operational in a GMP environment.

Q16. What prompted you to get involved in the MC industry?

In 2016 a small group of residents in Ruatoria established charitable company Hikurangi Enterprises to support economic development in the district. While the initial focus was on indigenous organisms (kānuka, kina, etc.), cannabis proved to be the most viable opportunity to commercialise first, with the added benefit of knowledgeable local growers and users. As a result, the Hikurangi Cannabis Company evolved as a standalone commercial venture, rebranding as Rua Bioscience in October 2019. The research and commercial development of indigenous organisms is continuing under other entities.

Q17. Do you intend to conduct trials for conditions where there is already evidence of efficacy?

Probably, it is always good to validate and build on previous research – and a Literature Review is the usual way to initially identify or discount potential target indications.

Q18. When do you plan to have product ready for market?

Late 2020 or early 2021.

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