One of the first lessons you learn as a scientist is patience. Patience learning what seems to be an endless stream of information trying to help you visualize and understand the natural universe. Patience practicing dozens of meticulous laboratory techniques that could ruin the experiment if any detail or consideration is overlooked. Patience through hundreds of failures until you finally complete an experiment and acquire meaningful results.
Not everyone has the patience to be a scientist, when I was a teaching assistant one of the 2nd year students in one of the labs I was helping teach had an outburst and left the room. We’d given the students a fairly simple experiment using acids and bases, the student in question had failed to get the expected results three times in a row and couldn’t understand why. We found out the week after when he didn’t show up to the lab that he’d dropped out of university.
Learning from failure is a crucial component to science, we rarely push the bounds of human knowledge of our natural universe with flawless execution. Instead, we fumble through frameworks attempting to define phenomena we typically have a tenuous grasp on, the early aviation days are a great example of how humans tackle the unknown.
The cannabis industry is currently going through the same trial and error humans have been struggling through for thousands of years. From unexpected problems with cannabis beverages to lower than expected outdoor harvests the industry is learning what it takes to be an industry. Which is why I’m suspicious when I see news releases that proclaim significant scientific feats is a relatively short period of time.
Willow Bioscience was formed through a combination of private companies and investments. Their core science foundation came from the Epimeron component to the deal. With Epimeron, WIllow got access to a biotech company that previously worked on opium poppy lead by Peter Facchini and Joseph Tucker. You may recognise Peter Facchini from an article I wrote about the history of studying plant drug production in Canada. One year after Willow Bioscience forms, they let go of their CSO Peter Facchini and their VP Applied Science Jill Hagel, Peter’s former graduate student he brought with him from Epimeron. Shortly after, Joseph Tucker also departs from the company, removing the last of Epimeron’s leadership from Willow.
What we’re left with is a small biotech company that claims completion of the same scientific feat in 18 months as what Cronos is projecting will take Ginkgo 3 years to complete. It’s important to note the initial funding Willow received to start their company is around the same as Cronos paid Ginkgo to work on their project. Research can be scaled with funding to increase the rate of experimentation and Ginkgo already had a facility for scaled experimentation before the Cronos’ cash injection. Willow rewarded their scientists for seemingly completing a significant step in our understanding of biotechnology in a relatively short period of time and on a small budget by letting them go. In my article on Cronos’ gamble with biosynthesis I try to outline how significant a step is biotechnology this would be if true.
By this point in the story you probably wont be surprised to learn that Willow Bioscience is only covered by Eight Capital and AltaCorp Capital, both of whom were advisers on the initial private placement. Willow claims they’ll be producing yeast-derived cannabinoids in the first half of 2021, I anticipate this date will keep getting pushed back. The problem is if they didn’t engineer a completely new pathway to make cannabinoids and are using the same one found in cannabis that Jon Page patented, they’re going to get a cease and desist from Aurora when they try to sell the cannabinoids they’re about to produce. Which leads to an interesting caveat they included in their forward looking statements:
“Any number of important factors could cause actual results to differ materially from those in the forward-looking statements including, but not limited to, risks associated with: the cannabinoid industry in general; the success of the Company’s research and development strategies; infringement on intellectual property;…“
They’re the only company in the cannabis industry I’ve seen to date to include intellectual property infringement as a potential to cause material change in forward-looking statements. I find everything about this company disturbing. It takes a long time to reach scientific milestones, even longer in fields that don’t already have a large body of research to draw from like cannabis.
Kudos to GoBlue for pointing out this company to me.
The author has no position in any company mentioned in this article. This analysis is in no way intended to be a recommendation to buy or sell any security or derivative.