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A researcher from Ryerson is collaborating with Beleave Inc., a company that develops and grows medicinal marijuana, on a project to develop more precise breeding techniques for cannabis plants.
Dr. Lesley Campbell, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biology, is tasked with more accurately identifying the aspects of cannabis’ genetic makeup that can provide the greatest clinical aid; these genetic factors are known to the science community as cannabinoids.
Two or three Ryerson students will be tapped to work with Campbell on the project; likely one or two master’s students and one post-doctoral candidate.
Roger Ferreira, the CEO of Beleave Inc., said, “The goal of the project is to use some of Campbell’s recent quantitative genetic models around plant breeding and use these to create a precision breeding tool for us. We’re able to use this science and translate it industrially into breeding programs to develop new plant varieties in which we’re able to more precisely control cannabinoid production.”
Once the most positive genetic factors of the cannabis plants are targeted by Campbell’s lab, Beleave Inc. will use that expertise to grow and harvest the plants in a tightly controlled method to ensure Campbell’s work comes to life. Though Beleave is not yet a fully licensed industrial cannabis producer, it is currently on the last step of the licensing process.
“We’re able to leverage the fact that Dr. Campbell has an industrial cannabis research license at Ryerson,” said Ferreira. “The project is going to be started by plants being grown in her lab. At the outset there will be smaller space requirements because we’re starting with fewer numbers of parental plants for the breeding, but as the generations go by, there are going to be requirements for larger greenhouse growing space.”
More space will be needed as the number of parent plants increases. “This year also Dr. Campbell is going to be applying for a greenhouse space adjacent to our production facility in Hamilton (Ont.). Dr. Campbell is going to be applying for that to be a second site for the industrial cannabis research license. Ideally we will be growing in two locations.”
The project received a $72,000 Collaborative Research and Development (CRD) grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to help cover costs, including the salaries of the Ryerson students and laboratory materials. Beleave is also contributing $24,000 to purchase a piece of research equipment, called a mass spectrometer, which will be housed at Ryerson, in addition to $12,000 in in-kind (service and equipment) contributions.
Ferreira, who worked with Campbell before on a smaller project, said he chose Ryerson as Beleave’s research partner for several reasons. “Because a lot of the principal investigators are inclined to develop these academia industry partnerships, get real world experience for students, that was another thing that was a great thing about partnering with Ryerson that added value to the project.”
Campbell is not receiving compensation from Beleave, Ferreira said. “Her interest in it is developing the industry-academia partnership, providing opportunities for her students. There’s opportunity within the context of the project for us to develop a research agreement and there is some opportunity in terms of how the IP will be shared amongst the academics and industrial partners.”
Campbell and her team are expected to begin their research in March 2017, and the project is likely to take between 12 and 14 months to complete. The project could grow, Ferreira added. “If this project within its funding and budget is successful, it could lead to us funding a broader project that’s larger in scope and scale.”