Part of cannabis and small business and retail
Long before recreational cannabis, there was CanniMed Therapeutics Ltd., the first licensed producer to grow and sell medical cannabis nearly two decades ago. Now, Brent Zettl, the former head of CanniMed, is back in business with a new cannabis company.
It hasn’t been that long – about a year – since he sold CanniMed to Aurora Cannabis Inc. for $838-million in stock and cash after a tense takeover fight that ended when Aurora raised its offer.
The new venture, named Zyus Life Sciences Inc., is aiming to get licensed in Canada to buy cannabis from other growers and extract from the plant in order to make infused oils, capsules and topical creams for medical use. Focusing on the treatment of chronic pain, Zyus strives to create a suite of cannabis products that would fall under Health Canada’s classification as a medical drug. The Saskatoon-based company raised $25-million in October to pay for new machinery and plans to go public later this year to fund clinical trials and foreign expansion.
Mr. Zettl is part of a growing crop of cannabis entrepreneurs who have made a fortune selling their businesses amid a steep rally in marijuana stocks. And instead of retiring, many are heading back into the industry to do it all again.
“The business might’ve been sold, but the mission isn’t over,” said Mr. Zettl. “We are just starting to understand what the science could unleash and how we could help patients.”
Mr. Zettl didn’t waste much time between jobs. He says last March 31 was his final day at CanniMed and he started cooking up something new on April 3. The name Zyus comes from “zygote,” as in the beginnings of life, and “us” as a society.
He bought an ethanol-extraction facility in Saskatoon and is building it out to comply with Health Canada rules. At full capacity, it can package 35 million bottles, or handle 350,000 kilograms of product annually; according to Mr. Zettl, it can process in two days what CanniMed could produce in a year. He says ethanol is cheaper, faster, more scaleable and better because it doesn’t leave any water behind, unlike the more common extraction method using carbon dioxide, which causes cannabis oil to look milky and can reduce its shelf life.
Zyus applied for a licence with Health Canada in October. Mr. Zettl doesn’t want to grow product because he thinks there will be more than enough in the legal system in short order, leading to “flower wars” that will push prices down. “It’s better and cheaper for us to buy it than it is for us to grow it,” he said.
Asked what he’d do differently this time around, Mr. Zettl said he’d have a smaller board – CanniMed had 10 directors and he said he’d want no more than seven – and ensure that directors share the same values. And he’d pull the trigger on deals faster.
“We tried to be too conservative and move too slowly with respect to deal-making,” he said. “We have to be able to move quickly with bigger decisions.”
Zyus already has 43 employees, of whom 35 are from CanniMed. Another new hire at Zyus is Keith Carpenter, who was a cannabis-research analyst at AltaCorp Capital Inc.
“None of us have to be here. I don’t have to be here," Mr. Zettl said. "But it’s about making a difference.”
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