Your company has just been granted the first medical cannabis license in India, how did this start?
Bombay Hemp Company’s (BOHECO) efforts with medical cannabis first began when several relevant stakeholders from the Union Government requested BOHECO representatives to explore the potential of establishing a medicinal cannabis eco-system in India. The environment for Cannabis-based medicine has improved over recent years as there has been a lot of focus on Cannabis globally. As a matter of fact, in 2015 India launched the Phytopharmaceutical Act of India which is focused on plant-based medicines but with a modern analytical approach to the same. Additionally, it was emphasized by Union Government policymakers that each State Government had the legislative prerogative to establish their own medicinal cannabis development system, under select provisions of the NDPS Act (Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic substances act).
Along with that in 2016, BOHECO held first of its kind conference in New Delhi which was focused on the medicinal benefits of cannabis, called the I-CARE (India Cannabis Analysis and Research) Summit, where the Chief guest was the DCGI (Drug Controller General of India). In his speech at I-CARE he said “Yes, we want to have a lenient approach rather than a restrictive approach. You people will be thinking and working together and as a regulator and technocrat, we are with you, till you are scientifically going to prove that you will protect the people of this country. We have already worked out the phytopharmaceutical path for new product development to be used for humanity and people of this country. You can use that platform. I see huge potential in these kinds of alternative medicines in the treatment of patients and people.” – Dr. G N Singh, Drug Controller General of India.
Since then the first Medical Cannabis license has been granted by the Government for the cultivation of medically valuable Cannabis plants, as part of a project between BOHECO & CSIR-IIIM for use in the medicine sector. Hence there has been a shift in the Government towards making these medicines available In India and it is evident from the steps they have taken to introduce the same.
Agriculture is big business in India and Hemp farming could be a very lucrative market for the Indian economy, once a framework is in place for farmers. How is your company planning to integrate these third parties within your Eco sphere?
With the bourgeoning future of Hemp based agriculture in India, BOHECO has been consistently engaging with several realms of direct stakeholders within the Hemp eco-system in India:
- Farmers – BOHECO through its not-for-profit partnerships aims to focus on a range of farmer-centric activities such as cultivation training programs, harvest & processing training programs, skill development programs and ancillary agronomic awareness activities. Once the farmers & seed varieties have reached a stage to initiate commercial cultivation, BOHECO shall also be providing a 100% buy-back policy to farmers & farmer producer organizations for their fibre, seed & flowering tops.
- Government Departments – BOHECO has been engaging with several State and Union ministries & departments (Finance, Textiles, Food processing, Health & Family Welfare, Excise, Narcotics etc.) across several dimensions to establish policies & guidelines which would encourage the proliferation of Hemp from a cultivation to a product development level.
You are placing very heavy emphasis on research at the moment, what are the plans for introducing medical cannabis at a patient level?
BOHECO’s end customer base is bifurcated across 2 categories:
- B2B solutions – Providing API for product development to Pharmaceutical & Biotechnology companies.
- B2C solutions – Providing Cannabis based medicines (CBMs) to large medical institutions such as for targeted pain management solutions in areas such as palliative care, arthritic pain, dysmenorrhea as well as alternative therapeutic applications in areas such as epilepsy & type 2 diabetes
You are working very closely with the Government, what is their role?
India has a unique existing system in place when it comes to the government’s role with respect to Industrial & medical grade Cannabis.
As per the NDPS Act, the relevant ministries at a Union (Central) government are focused on establishing a broad set of guidelines by which individual state governments can pursue developmental & commercial work pertaining to the Industrial & medical application of Cannabis.
Under Section 10 and Section 14 of the NDPS Act, State governments hold the authority to devise & enforce their own policy framework for the cultivation of Cannabis for industrial & medicinal purposes. As most interested states are conducting such a policy development exercise for Cannabis for the first time, BOHECO has been acting as Industry & knowledge partners to governments of 4 different states, in order to provide relevant inputs leading to the development of robust policies in each state.
CBD is currently illegal in India. Is legislation change on the horizon?
CBD like any other extract of cannabis is currently illegal in India but this is not explicitly defined anywhere. For any promising drug candidate (even narcotic) there is a certain regulatory path it needs to follow. The golden rule of proving the safety and efficacy of the drug is through clinical trials randomized, double blinded and placebo controlled. Hence, CBD will have to go down this same path for its identification as a medically important substance. If the medical benefits are proven then legislation must change that’s how the regulations work, there is already a defined path that new breakthrough drug substances can follow. Considering the evidence presented by CBD in countries globally from clinical and anecdotal experiences, if CBD can do even half of what is claimed, the legislation will change for the benefit of the public.
The global CBD market is turning into a billion-dollar industry. Does the Indian market intend to capitalize on this?
Yes, even though the Indian market maybe very young at the moment, there are still players looking at the global picture as well. Besides the cost of GMP grade CBD is rising every day, if the production cost can be brought down in India we could become market leaders for the same with creation of GMP grade extracts full spectrum to isolates for hemp and cannabis. India anyway is the hub for generic manufacturing, we can technically do the same for cannabis as well, considering India has plants in certain regions with high CBD naturally.
With much emphasis on research, any significant discoveries to date?
It’s still early days with all our fundamental research, we anticipate several groundbreaking discoveries over the forthcoming 12-24 months.
You have a fashion label called B Label. With this being a different industry altogether, how has your previous business experience transferred to the cannabis industry?
Seven Co-Founders – With a background expertise in several functional managements areas such as Strategic Development, Research & development, Supply Chain based operations, Accounts & book-keeping, brand development and marketing along with pre-developed capability of scaling up start-up enterprises. At present, 1 co-founder is pursuing his PHD in the socio-economic development of rural communities in the state of Uttarakhand through the application of Industrial Hemp. All Co-Founders are working on a full-time basis. The names of the co-founders are listed below:
- Avnish Pandya
- Chirag Tekchandaney
- Delzaad Deolaliwala
- Jahan Peston Jamas
- Sanvar Oberoi
- Sumit Shah
- Yash P. Kotak
All the founders have a diverse range of experience, right from helping scale other startup companies to working with multi-national corporations in order to develop experience in establish processes & systems to enhance business efficiency.
7 Employees – Focused on business development, distribution channel development, marketing, public relations, media coordination and strategic development of sales opportunities. All employees are engaged on a full-time basis.
3 Scientists – Including 1 European scientist with 12+ years of experience in Cannabis based medicines (on a part-time basis) as well as an Indian plant breeder (on a full-time basis) with 10+ years of experience in breeding of medicinal plants such as Opium & 1 associate scientist with 3+ years’ experience in micro-biology.
What is in the pipeline over the next five years for Bombay Hemp?
Over the next 12-36 months, BOHECO is focusing on a diverse range of activities with the fundamental goal of reaching a final sampling stage with prospective customers by the end of this year:
- First cultivation cycle of Cannabis for exploration of medical applications
- First phase of bio-chemical fingerprinting of all cultivated plants (20-30 plants in total)
- Advanced Cloning techniques for the shortlisting of suitable cultivars
- Lay the ground work for 3-4 additional Cultivation Cycles to validate botanical efficacy
- Finalize a shortlisted Set of Cultivars for scientific & commercial scaling
- Advanced cloning of Finalized Cultivars
All these activities are inextricably tied to BOHECO’s fundamental goals of:
- Small & large scale commercial cultivation of medicinal grade cannabis
- Initiate Sales of GMP & Non-GMP grade API (processed enriched fractions)
- Begin Licensing Cannabis cultivars to standard cultivators
- Formalizing 10 large B2B partnerships for the purchase of Hemp fabric in semi-finished/finished form
- To increase the size of customer base from 5000 to 50,000 in the next 3 years
- To expand the scope of partnership with 5-10 women weaver cooperatives across 2-3 states, 750-1500 additional weavers & artisans in the next 3-5 years
- To actively engage with 500-1000 Hemp fibre collectors and 5000+ farmers over the next 3-5 years
- To be present across 70+ stores in India & Overseas
To attain final approval from the Food Safety Standards Authority of India for the manufacturing & commercial distribution of Hemp based Foods & food products (Hemp seeds, hemp seed oil, Hemp protein etc.) over the next 6-12 months
BOHECO aims to have exclusive rights to the first generation of multiple low to high THC Cannabis varieties developed, as part of an existing partnership with CSIR institutes.