Canadian company invests millions in Kiwi research to improve cannabis crops

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The world's largest grower and supplier of medicinal cannabis has invested more than $2 million in a small Kiwi agri-tech company.

Canadian company Canopy Rivers' investment of US$1.5m (NZ$2.2m) in BioLumic is for the development of UV treatments that improve the performance and yield of cannabis crops.

Palmerston North-based BioLumic's chief executive Warren Bebb said it was satisfying to see more global companies choose to invest in the "world-leading" company. 

"New Zealand agri-tech companies are starting to make a mark globally... It's a testament to the value of scientific research.

"Given our results with other flowering crops such as lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries and soybeans, medicinal cannabis is a natural fit for our technology," Bebb said.

The global medicinal cannabis market is growing at such a rate that the market value is expected to be worth more than $80 billion in the next five years.

Parliament passed the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill in December, which introduced an exception and a legal defence for terminally ill people to possess and use illegal cannabis.

This meant companies such as BioLumic, which was started by photobiologist Dr Jason Wargent and Bebb in 2012, stand to share in the profits when the New Zealand medicinal cannabis market takes off.

Wargent said developing a bespoke treatment for medicinal cannabis was an "awesome" application of the company's UV technology. 

From left, Dr Yajie Wang, Dr Jason Wargent, Ivie Pabellon and Dr Lulu He work in BioLumic's research and development facility in Palmerston North.
SUPPLIED
From left, Dr Yajie Wang, Dr Jason Wargent, Ivie Pabellon and Dr Lulu He work in BioLumic's research and development facility in Palmerston North.

He reckoned becoming involved in the medicinal cannabis market would attract new scientists from around the region and beyond.

"It's exciting that we could make a difference for someone who has a really chronic health issue. It's the next chapter for us. It's an exciting new chapter," Wargent said.

BioLumic has grown test crops of lettuce in Britain, Spain and Mexico, and has proven UV treatments can increase crop yields by up to 40 per cent in a variety of conditions.

Wargent said part of BioLumic's "uniqueness" was the short duration of its UV treatments – between one to two weeks for seedlings and a matter of minutes for seeds. Once the plants have been treated, they do not need any further treatment for the rest of their lives. 

Wargent said he first tested the technology on a small number of seedlings, which he kept in his bedroom to monitor. Last year, the company opened a world-first ultraviolet photobiology research and development centre, based at Massey University in Palmerston North.

Although Wargent was unsure exactly where he wanted to end up when he first started BioLumic, he had always hoped the company could become a unicorn – a term for a start-up company worth more than $1b.

Canopy Rivers' investment is part of a total of US$4.2m (NZ$6.2m) in funding with contributions from Finistere Ventures, Rabo Ventures, Radicle Seed and New Zealand investors.​ ​

Canopy Rivers' investment will also be used to fund BioLumic's artificial intelligence programme, expand its overseas trial programme and upgrade security measures at BioLumic's facilities​.

BioLumic, which has a total of 15 full-time staff based in New Zealand and overseas, was in the process of applying for a licence to grow cannabis for research and development purposes.​

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