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Southern Cross plant expertise bolsters Commonwealth-funded medicinal cannabis research


Sharlene King
16 October 2019

Southern Cross University researchers will underpin pioneering research into the medicinal cannabis industry in NSW, analysing the plant’s physiology and biochemistry.

The research team will design agronomic parameters for cannabis plants to determine the ideal conditions for producing high quality, year-round, consistent medicinal cannabis products.

Associate Professor Bronwyn Barkla, Director of the University’s Southern Cross Plant Science, said the new government and industry research study was a critical step in the delivery of therapeutically-consistent and safe medicinal cannabis products.

“The research team at Southern Cross University will investigate the compounds the plant produces, in what quantity, and where and how the plant synthesises those compounds.

“This is important for quality assurance, ensuring the industry is able to deliver a consistent and safe product of high efficacy to patients,” Professor Barkla said.

The research study is a $10 million collaboration between the NSW Department of Primary Industries, Cann Group Ltd, Southern Cross University, Aglive Pty Ltd and the University of Newcastle, with support from the Commonwealth Government.

The Commonwealth Government will co-invest $3 million through its Cooperative Research Centre Program (CRC-P), ‘Growing the medicinal cannabis industry – from precision farming to pharmaceuticals’. CRC programs support industry-led collaborations between industry, researchers and the community.

“This CRC-P covers a range of crucial aspects in the development of a robust medicinal cannabis supply chain for Australia, including cultivation and processing, as well as product track-and-trace and compound pharmacology,” said Associate Professor Tobias Kretzschmar also of Southern Cross Plant Science.

Active cannabis compounds are produced in small highly efficient bio-factories, known as trichomes or leaf hairs, which predominantly sit on female flowers.

“Trichome productivity depends on a range of factors including genetics, developmental stages and the cultivation environment. Understanding this complex interplay at the molecular level allows for optimization of active compound production,” Professor Kretzschmar said.

Both Associate Professors Barkla and Kretzschmar have a background in trichome biology and strong track records in industry partnerships and collaborations, translating basic scientific findings into industry applications.

The University’s Deputy Vice Chancellor of Research Professor Mary Spongberg said Southern Cross was well-credentialled to contribute to this CRC-P.

“For more than 25 years Southern Cross has been one of the leaders of medicinal plant research in Australia,” said Professor Spongberg.

“We have customised cannabis research infrastructure and more than a decade of experience in cannabis analytical chemistry and cannabis genetics, collectively making Southern Cross one of the most experienced Australian universities in cannabis research.

“Globally, medicinal cannabis is a growing multi-billion dollar market and we believe these project outcomes will make Australia internationally competitive in the premium market segment, while nationally this project will lay the foundation to meet long-term client demand of medicinal cannabis products,” she said.

Cann Group Ltd is the first company to be issued an Australian government Cannabis Research License.