By Fred Gardner
Published in full by the O’Shaughnessy’s News Service on March 3, 2015
When Raphael Mechoulam entitled his 2012 talk to the International Cannabinoid Research Society, “Planning Research for the Next Half a Century,” he did not anticipate an ambitious start-up taking him literally.
Los Angeles attorney Gary Hiller has engaged Mechoulam, professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Natural Products at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem —and the co-discoverer of THC and CBD in 1964, and of anandamide in 1992— to help develop the research agenda of a new company called Phytecs. (Synthesized from Phyto, which is Greek for “plant,” plus EndoCannabinoid System.)
In his ICRS talk, Mechoulam suggested that investigators might profitably explore new applications for CBD, the uses of the CB-2 receptor, and the role of numerous fatty acids that are close chemical relatives of the body’s own cannabinoids. “I am glad that my work has played a catalytic role in drug development,” he commented in a March 1 email.
According to its website (launched quietly in late February), Phytecs will evaluate beneficial plants other than Cannabis that “produce compounds that interact with the endocannabinoid system in many different ways, from mimicking endocannabinoids to slowing or accelerating the enzymes that metabolize them.”
Initially the company plans to develop cosmetics, skin-care products, nutraceuticals, and food supplements—not drugs requiring FDA approval.
The crown jewel of the Phytecs site is a very clear, succinct-yet-thorough “Introduction to the Cannabinoid System,” by Ethan Russo, MD, who has left the employ of G.W. Pharmaceuticals to become Phytecs’ medical director. There is no more lucid expositor, and Russo’s piece will be widely read and appreciated by both professional and lay readers.
Phytecs’s advisory board includes scientists Heather Bradshaw, Andrea Hohmann and Jürg Gertsch, ethnbotanist James A. Duke, and former Congressman Tony Coelho, who introduced the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Bradshaw runs a lab at Indiana University that has been trying to determine the cause, at the receptor level, of endometriosis and other disorders affecting female reproductive function.
Hohmann also directs a lab at IU. “Her laboratory first demonstrated that activation of CB2 receptors suppresses the processing of nociceptive information,” says her Phytecs resume. “Her lab also demonstrated that endogenous cannabinoids are mobilized in the brain underlying a phenomenon known as stress-induced analgesia. This work identified the enzyme monoacylglycerol lipase as a previously unrecognized analgesic target.”
Gertsch, now a professor at the University of Bern in Switzerland, determined that beta-caryophyllene in Echinacea exerts effects through the CB-2 receptor. His current research, according to the Phytecs site, “focuses on molecular pharmacology of the endocannabinoid system and drug discovery.”