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As the race to produce cannabis without having to actually grow a plant heats up, Team Canada remains confident it can still win.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, became the latest this week to claim they had discovered a cost-effective and scalable way to synthetically produce cannabinoids such as THC and CBD using brewer’s yeast. Similar to the most common method of insulin production, more than a dozen companies are now rushing to commercialize what remains a largely academic process.

Hyasynth Biologicals of Montreal, meanwhile, is not concerned by the extra competition.

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“We do still intend to be the first to market and we do have more years of experience that we are basing our work on,” said Kevin Chen, the Montreal-based company’s co-founder and CEO. “It has been in the past six months when we have seen all this competition start to show up all of a sudden, but we have been at it for a lot longer.”

The Berkeley team is hoping to have a finished product they can market to the medical community within the next 12 months. Yet, having read their latest paper, Mr. Chen questioned whether that goal is achievable for them

“Anyone can say [they will be ready in one year], but that is a pretty aggressive timeline,” he said. “[The Berkeley research] is a good start for a new entrant in this area - reading through the paper itself, none of it is that new or super impressive.”

Armed with a $10-million investment Hyasynth secured from New Brunswick-based licensed cannabis producer Organigram back in September of 2018, Mr. Chen said his company expects to be producing multiple kilograms per month of pure cannabinoids by mid-to-late 2020.

There is “immense potential for chemical synthetic and biosynthetic production methods to be a disruptive force in the supply chain for cannabinoids,” AltaCorp Capital analyst David Kideckel told clients in a report published Feb. 20 that listed 14 companies currently active in the space. While cautioning synthetic production of cannabinoids is not likely to fully replace plant-based extraction, Mr. Kideckel said “even with the expected commoditization of dried flower, the cost of using plant material as an input is likely to remain more expensive than the inputs required for biosynthetic production.”

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