In a development that could spark Israel’s newest achievement in the medical cannabis sector, the Israeli-British cannabis biotech start-up CIITECH announced this week that it will fund a research project in collaboration with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to explore treating asthma.
Asthma — a pervasive, allergic inflammatory lung disease — affects more than five million people in the UK, as well as scores in Israel. An estimated 300 million people worldwide suffer from the disease, and 250,000 deaths per year are attributed to asthma. Furthermore, the number of people with asthma worldwide is expected to increase by more than 100 million by 2025.
Israel has become a hub for the study and distribution of medical cannabis in recent years. In May, Israel implemented a new law that essentially decriminalizes recreational marijuana use nationwide, and in August, a joint committee of the Israeli Health and Finance ministries approved a measure allowing for the international exportation of the plant. According to some reports, Israel could earn up to $4 billion annually in revenue from medical cannabis exports.
Clifton Flack, the founder of CIITECH, lauded the advantages of conducting his company’s research and development in the Jewish state.
“[Israel] is where [medical cannabis research] began. It’s where it continues at an accelerated pace. It’s the only [country] with legal, approved and cannabis-friendly R&D centers in the world, and it’s cost-effective,” Flack told JNS.org, adding that, “Israel’s scientists are dynamic outside-the-box thinkers.”
The CIITECH-funded research project will be conducted at Hebrew University’s Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabinoid Research, and will be led by researchers professors Raphael Mechoulam and Francesca Levi-Schaffer. In the 1970s, Mechoulam, a pioneer in the medical cannabis field, discovered THC — the primary psychoactive compound in the plant. Levi-Schaffer, meanwhile, is an expert in asthma research.
The research project will focus on the effects of the non-psychoactive cannabis compound CBD, with the aim of identifying its potential inhibitory impact on allergic airway inflammation that causes asthma attacks. According to CIITECH’s leadership, it’s hoped that the study will yield results within six months.
“CBD is proven to have anti-inflammatory properties,” said Flack. “Since asthma and other respiratory conditions present themselves as inflammation of the airway, it’s long been believed that cannabis might be a good therapeutic candidate.”
Flack said that the research will focus on identifying a “specific mechanism by which cannabinoids bind to the cells for maximum effect,” and emphasized that CBD is “non-psychoactive and 100 percent legal in the UK,” where his company has operations.
Hebrew University’s Mechoulam also cited CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties, and said that the research team looks forward “to investigating whether [CBD] will be effective in treating asthma and related respiratory conditions.”
Ultimately, researchers hope that cannabis-based asthma medicines can serve as an alternative to traditional respiratory treatment methods, which predominantly involve the use of inhaled steroids in metered doses.
“Most of the symptoms of allergic disease patients are controlled by either symptomatic drugs or corticosteroids. However, some patients are steroid-resistant and allergic diseases such as severe asthma have been labeled as unmet clinical needs by the WHO (World Health Organization),” stated Levi-Schaffer. “We believe [that] our research will provide a novel and effective solution to treating this condition.”
Although the asthma research project’s results are pending, CIITECH already distributes CBD-based products through its UK-based eCommerce store.
“Our current CBD oil products can and are being used by asthma sufferers for relief,” said Flack. “We are, however, developing a specific formulation and cold vaporizer that may better suit customers with respiratory problems.”
In addition to conducting its research in Israel and having operations in the UK, the company is actively planning international expansion. CIITECH is seeking international partners for global license agreements for its Provacan and Herbalica brands, and is simultaneously exploring “the best investment pathway” to fund its growth, Flack explained.