Medicinal Genomics announced sequencing the entire genomes of the cannabis species Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica, equating to some 131 billion base pairs of genetic data. Initial results have reportedly posted on Amazon’s EC2 public cloud computing service, but the firm says it plans to release raw sequencing data and full genome annotations for the Cannabis indica genome later this year.
Medicinal Genomics maintains the sequencing data will help accelerate ongoing and new research into the therapeutic benefit of Cannabis, help identify nonpsychoactive therapeutic compounds made by the plant, and elucidate biochemical and enzyme pathways that could make Cannabis-derived compounds easier to produce.
The C. sativa sequencing was carried out using a short-read next-generation sequencing technology. However, the results demonstrated that this approach wasn’t going to provide a clear enough picture of the genome to identify important biological pathways. It became apparent that the different Cannabis strains can demonstrate a genomic variation as high as 1%, comments Kevin McKernan, founder and head of scientific operations.
“This realization caused somewhat of a paradigm shift in the way we approached this project. At this point we moved to triple backcrossed cultivars and longer read technology.” To this end, the C. indica sequencing project was carried out using Roche’s GS FLX+ instrumentation, which enabled the researchers to obtain a roughly 18x genome coverage with the 700–800 bp long reads.
“With the long reads we can sort out the variation in the strain and phase alleles so that we can make biological sense of the sequencing data,” Dr. McKernan adds. “We can assemble some key synthase genes into much longer phased blocks, allowing us to focus more on the biology and less on the computational concerns.”
U.K.’s GW Pharm is probably the most well-recognized name in cannabinoid therapeutics research. The firm’s Sativex® oromucosal cannabinoid spray has been approved in countries including the U.K., Canada, New Zealand, and Spain as an add-on treatment for improving the symptoms of spasticity in multiple sclerosis patients who have not responded adequately to other antispasticity medications. Over the last few months the drug has also been approved and/or launched in the Czech Republic, Germany, and Denmark.
Meanwhile Phase III trials in patients with cancer pain are ongoing along with earlier-stage clinical trials evaluating cannabinoid medicines for indications including neropathic pain, diabetes, and metabolic syndromes, as well as inflammation. Preclinical development in fields spanning cancer therapy, epilepsy, and psychiatric disorders is also in progress.
A second international Phase III cancer pain study, initiated in June, is being carried out in collaboration with Otsuka, GW Pharm’s U.S. commercialization partner for Sativex. The cancer pain indication will represent the partners’ initial indication for Sativex in the U.S. market.
In April Novartis paid GW Pharm $5 million up front and could make another $28.75 million in milestone payments as part of an exclusive licensing deal for commercialization of Sativex in Australia, New Zealand, Asia (excluding Japan, China, and Hong Kong), Africa, and the Middle East (excluding Israel and Palestine). GW Pharm had previously licensed the drug to Otsuka Pharmaceutical for the U.S., Almirall for Europe (excluding the U.K.), Bayer HealthCare in the U.K. and Canada, and Neopharm in Israel and Palestine.
GW Pharm says it has developed an extensive international network of scientists in relevant fields and in 2007 expanded its early cannabinoid research through a global research agreement with Otsuka. The partners are working primarily on cannabinoids as potential treatments for CNS disorders and oncology, which complements GW Pharm’s in-house program in type 2 diabetes and related metabolic disorders. As part of this in-house program, GW Pharm established the GW Metabolic Research Laboratory at the University of Buckingham in 2009.