Cannabis Breeders Are Widely Undervalued. This Company Wants To Change That.
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Exceptional cannabis doesn’t just miraculously appear. Many materials and resources must be successfully manipulated before a top-shelf cannabis product can be harvested or manufactured. Nature must be nurtured. Yet, one of the most significant factors that will determine a cannabis plant’s quality (and therefore its value) is its genetics.
Cannabis genetics have significant influence over a plant’s yield potential, its cannabinoid and terpene profile, and its susceptibility or resistance towards pests, mold, and disease. Genetics also play a crucial role in the industry, fostering a greater diversity necessary for expanding applications of the cannabis plant. By doing this, breeders create more research, more opportunity for commercialization, and ultimately more cannabis-derived utility for people all over the world.
Expanding the gene pool
The work of cannabis breeders is essential in creating new cultivars of the plant with distinct flavor profiles and pharmacological effects. This is the key to developing more cannabis-based medicines and to building differentiated consumer product brands.
But breeding plants is difficult and labor-intensive work. The hunt for a great phenotype often takes several years and trials of thousands of seeds that sprout into duds, before finding a unique plant with desirable qualities. And even that is not enough to make the seeds or genetics commercially viable. They must also be strong and stable enough to reproduce offspring with the same coveted characteristics. This painstaking work is what makes exotic, exquisite, and new varieties of cannabis possible.
Giving breeders their props
Recognizing and rewarding cannabis breeders for their work would be in the best interest of cannabis patients, consumers, and the entire cannabis economy. But unfortunately, current cannabis market dynamics have made it very difficult for breeders to be fairly compensated and adequately incentivized for sharing their contributions. Due to cloning, breeders are not able to protect and monetize their prized genetics. That's a major problem—not just for breeders, but for the entire cannabis community.
For this reason, three cannabis industry pioneers have started a business that offers a solution. Breeder’s Best seeks optimized chemovars (“chemical varieties" that are erroneously termed “strains” in common parlance) to help the plant meet its full therapeutic potential, thereby making cannabis safer and better. The company is the brainchild of cannabis researcher Dr. Ethan Russo, botanist and author of Marijuana Botany & Cannabis: Evolution and Ethnobotany, Robert Clarke, and plant scientist turned intellectual property (IP) attorney, Dale Hunt, Ph.D.
In addition to helping breeders secure and protect their intellectual property, Breeder’s Best will work with them to develop commercial partnerships to license their IP and collect royalties for their genetics. The company wants to ensure that breeders get recognized and compensated for the cannabis plants they are creating.
“I know how to set up appropriate and modest royalty opportunities along the supply chain so that [breeders] have a way to capture value," says Hunt. "We’ve got multiple nurseries that we’re talking to in California that all recognize the value in paying a royalty for having access to exclusive and vetted genetics.”
Hunt has a doctorate in plant cellular and molecular biology and has been practicing intellectual property law for 23 years. He’s obtained thousands of patents and plant variety rights for his clients in more than 30 countries.
He explained the impetus for starting this business: “I’d been approached by multiple cannabis breeders who wanted me to help them get intellectual property protection and the conversation was always, ‘Yes that’s what I do, that’s easy, but how are you going to make money with this? Because if you’re paying for a patent that’s not going to make you money. It became really clear to me that there was a missing piece here.
Hunt says this was the genesis of the genetics idea. "Let’s provide a service that goes way beyond what a law firm does, and that not only protects IP, but that also finds good markets, good opportunities, good partners for breeders to make money from their IP,” he says.
How it works
After a breeder submits their genetics to Breeder’s Best, a team led by Dr. Ethan Russo and Robert Clarke review the genetics and interview the breeder. The Breeder’s Best team analyzes the potential applications and commercial viability of the plant and if they decide to work with the breeder, they request a license from the breeder to put their genetics and IP into a test grow.
These preliminary agreements include a one year option for Breeder’s Best to go find and develop commercial production partnerships. Hunt explained that the term is only one year so that both parties can get to know each other before entering any long term arrangement. He emphasized, “key elements of those deals are that we will never own their patent, we will be their exclusive licensee as long as we can pay a minimum annual royalty that we negotiate, and if we don’t do our job, we lose our exclusivity. If we come up way short, we lose our license. As someone who’s negotiated a lot of IP licenses, it was important for me to make sure that [the agreement] was balanced. We need to be really good with the breeders. They’re the creative engine that drives the company.”
I asked Hunt what the best-case scenario for Breeder’s Best looks like five years from now. The question stirred up some strong emotion in him and he responded slightly choked up. “A lot of independent cannabis breeders have been struggling to find their way in the industry. They need to be getting paid and recognized for their life’s work and seeing the impact their life’s work is having on patients around the world.”