Scientists at Ohio University’s Edison Biotechnology Institute have launched a five-year study of the therapeutic properties of natural products, including cannabis, in order to determine their effectiveness for treating medical conditions ranging from neurological disorders to diabetes to cancer.
Black Elk Biotech, a company at the Innovation Center in Athens, Ohio, has awarded the university a $1.85 million contract to pursue the research.
A team led by Edison Biotechnology Institute Principal Investigator John Kopchick will conduct cell-based assays and animal research to identify and evaluate the efficacy of various natural products, including cannabis, as therapeutics.
“This project is a perfect fit for the natural products research program that has been established at Ohio University’s Edison Biotechnology Institute,” said Kopchick, Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology and Goll-Ohio Eminent Scholar. “We have broad expertise in medicinal drug discovery and development and look forward to this new endeavor.”
Shiyong Wu, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry and director of the Edison Biotechnology Institute, and Dhiraj Vattem, a professor of nutrition affiliated with the institute, are co-investigators on the project. Together, the three Ohio University professors have research expertise in dietary compounds, nutrition, cancer, diabetes, inflammation and neurodegenerative and growth disorders.
“We expect that the results from this research will lead to the development of innovative natural product-based solutions that can complement modern medicine and improve quality of life in people afflicted by a variety of pathologies,” said Vattem, who is also the director of the School of Applied Health Sciences and Wellness. “Moreover, this contract has the potential to position Southeast Ohio as a leader in natural product-based therapeutics, including cannabis.”
The Edison Biotechnology Institute has a strong track record of biomedical research and success in commercializing laboratory discoveries. Kopchick and his group’s discovery of a growth hormone receptor antagonist led to the development of SOMAVERT®, a therapy for individuals diagnosed with acromegaly that has aided thousands of individuals worldwide. The university has received more than $88 million in royalty income to date from licensing the technology to the Pfizer Corporation.
The institute recently expanded on this work by creating a natural products research and commercialization initiative focused on studying the effectiveness and safety of alternative therapies to conventional medical approaches for a wide variety of diseases. Natural products are a growing market, and are estimated to generate between $75 billion and $90 billion in revenues worldwide.
“This new multi-college collaborative project will significantly strengthen our current efforts in establishing a natural products research center at Ohio University, which Edison Biotechnology Institute has been working on over the past two years,” Wu said. “The relationship with Black Elk Biotech will provide Ohio University with an entrepreneurial outlet for commercialization of our technology and will help build a natural products-based economy in Southeast Ohio.”
The initiative has been supported by the Ohio University Foundation and the university’s Innovation Strategy program.
“Black Elk Biotech’s sponsorship will help ensure that Edison Biotechnology Institute and Ohio University remain at the forefront in advancing knowledge to benefit society,” said Joseph Shields, vice president for research and creative activity and dean of the Graduate College. “This collaboration is outstanding in its vision and expertise, and we look forward to a productive partnership.”
Black Elk Biotech is a subsidiary of Black Elk, a Westerville, Ohio-based company co-founded by entrepreneurs Chris Vince and Scott Holowicki. The company’s goal is to provide safe and effective natural products and medicines backed by scientific research. It is exploring how compounds found in common and exotic plants may yield new therapeutics. One of the targeted plants for study is cannabis, due to the legalization of medical marijuana in Ohio. Black Elk plans to apply for licenses to grow, produce and sell cannabis products to enhance the research and provide an effective method of getting therapeutics to patients.
“Our goal is to use evidence-based research to help educate the public and private industry about the best uses of natural products, including cannabis, for the management of human health,” Vince said.