It’s Not Marijuana, But Synthetic THC Company Has High Hopes

Zynerba has an innovative plan to treat pain.

Armando Anido Zynerba

Zynerba is not a medical marijuana company, but its CEO Armando Anido might know more about the chemical makeup of pot than anyone else.

The Devon, Pa., company is developing synthetic versions of two ingredients in marijuana believed to help people with a variety of health conditions. And it’s big business: The company had a $48 million IPO in August 2015.

The idea is pretty simple. Rather than growing marijuana, extracting its oils then purifying them, Zynerba aims to chemically manufacture CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). It’s developing a gel and a patch to treat patients with epilepsy, osteoarthritis, peripheral neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia pain and children suffering from a rare disease called Fragile X syndrome. (No, it won’t get you high, but it could be a serious form of pain relief.)

All of the company’s products are still awaiting FDA approval, and the company expects that to happen by 2019.

But medical marijuana is gaining momentum across the country. So far, 23 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medical pot. Four states and D.C. have legalized marijuana for recreational use. So it begs the question: Does the world really need synthetic THC and CBD? Does the proliferation of legal pot worry Anido?

Not at all, he says. Anido argues that there’s no good way to produce marijuana oils that have the exact same chemical makeup from batch to batch. Plus, some patients aren’t trying to get stoned, they just want relief.

“Talk to physicians and patients about whether or not they want extracted oils from a marijuana plant or something well-tested by the FDA — and the vast majority will go with what’s tested and proven to have the right dose,” said Anido, who became chairman and CEO in October 2014. “We hear from physicians about patients who traveled to areas where it’s legal or even moved to those locations. They get the oils, start taking them, start feeling better then all of the sudden they’re not getting same efficacy and get a higher rate of side effects. It’s too inconsistent.”

Even if the marijuana is grown the same way, it’ll have varying amounts of THC and CBD, said Anido. He compared it to wine, which can differ in taste ever-so-slightly each time it’s bottled.

Zynerba has its eyes set on a huge market. There are 129 million osteoarthritis patients in the United States, Anido explained, and 20 percent of them have inflammatory osteoarthritis — pain that Zyberba hopes to treat with its CBD gel.

“It’s probably better that the relief you can get using ibuprofen,” said Anido. “Talk to most rheumatologists, and they say they don’t believe [ibuprofen] works that well.” Since Zynerba is a topical gel, patients won’t get stomach degradation and damage to the GI tract that typically happens after consistently taking ibuprofen.

For Fragile X, the market is much smaller — 71,000 children suffer with the chromosome disease. But “there’s nothing to help those people right now,” said Anido.

The company’s stock has certainly seen better days. On Friday it was at approximately $6.38, but was around $35 in August 2015. Still, The Street named it one of eight biotech stocks poised to break out in 2016.

“I’m not happy with the stock price because it totally undervalues the company,” said Anido, who blamed the dip on the biotech sector taking a hit recently. “As we deliver on clinical data, there’s going to be a significant number of value inflection points along the way. It’s also important to note that there has been no negative news about the company. As I tell my people, just continue to focus on executing and the data will prove positive that there’s going to be nice value inflection points for shareholders.”

Will synthetic THC and CBD resonate with patients in a world where medical marijuana is becoming more and more commonplace? Hopefully we’ll know by 2019.

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