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Nepra Foods: Innovation and exclusive technology underpin a business strategy achieving rapid sales growth

Nepra Foods (CSE:NPRA) went public in September 2021 in an oversubscribed $7.5 million IPO that underlined the interest in plant-based meat, a market which, according to Bloomberg Intelligence, could top US$162 billion in size by 2030. The company has its roots in the gluten-free ingredients sector and is led by food industry veteran David Wood, whose grandfather started a butchers’ supply business in the 1930s.

Wood and partner Chadwick White, a master baker and now Chief Innovation Officer and Co-Founder of Nepra, were involved in the success of Udi’s Gluten Free Foods and Gluten Free Baking Solutions.

Nepra was born from a desire to create a consumer brand business using the company’s own innovative formulations. Today, it is a vertically integrated group, producing and selling multiple products across four segments: proteins, dairy alternatives, baked snacks, and spreads and ingredients. Sales in the nine months to September 30, 2021, totaled C$4.26 million, up from $1.75 million in the year-earlier period. Canadian Securities Exchange Magazine spoke to Wood, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, to find out what he anticipates the next phase of the Nepra story will look like.

Why do you think there is such a big move toward healthy foods and plant-based meat alternatives?

I think people have different reasons. Obviously, the environment is one big one. A lot of people want to do whatever they can and raising animals in the way we do is not the best for the environment. I also think the pandemic has brought on people’s concern about their personal health and they realize that what they eat is instrumental to how they feel. When people go plant-based, most of them don’t go fully vegetarian or vegan. They just eat more plants and less meat, and I think when they do they find out that they feel better. Their immune system response is better and their digestive systems work a bit better. And then there’s the animal cruelty side that a lot of people are concerned about, and just how we treat animals in general.

Tell us more about your proprietary THP (textured hemp protein). What is it? How did you get into it? Why is it such a game-changer?

When you make a meat alternative, you’re taking the protein from the plant and you have to texturize it to give it a similar texture to an animal product. Mostly it’s done with soy. But now they are texturizing all sorts of things – pea and chickpea and fava bean. But we are texturizing hemp, and as far as we know we’re the only ones currently doing that and we’re having really good luck. 

The biggest advantage is the flavour. Soy has an off flavour so you’ve got to cover that up when you make products out of it, and you end up using a lot of salt and other ingredients. Hemp has a very mild flavour. When we texturize it, the base product actually has a turkey flavour so it’s much easier to formulate meat analogues out of. Soy has some negative health aspects to it, too.

The reason we got into hemp is that our historical business is ingredients in the gluten-free space, so when you take gluten out of a product you have to replace it with something. And that’s how we came across working with hemp and found out that it’s very functional. Not only does it have good flavour, it’s functional when you bake with it or make food products out of it. It has a similar structural quality to eggs. You can take hemp protein and whip it into a meringue, so this really gives us an advantage on the food development side to come up with new products. As we started playing with it more, we found that not only could we use it for baking, but we could also make a lot of other products out of it.

Meat analogues are only one category. New products we’re coming out with include spaghetti and meatballs, a frozen food line and a pasta line. The spaghetti is actually made out of hemp as well because it’s high in protein, high in fibre and very healthy. So, as people eat more plant-based diets, they’ve got to come up with good protein sources. And they don’t necessarily want to eat things that look like meat. We’ve got formulations like pasta that is a good source of protein, or we also came out with snack items like pretzels.

You raised $7.5 million in your IPO. How are you going to use these funds to grow the business?

The company was founded in 2016 and our core business is ingredients. We import and distribute ingredients to all kinds of manufacturers across North America. We’re growing that business and because supply chains are a problem, especially when you’re bringing products in from overseas, we’ve used some of that capital to increase inventory, just so we can weather some of the shipping delays.

We’re also building out our facility in Colorado to produce more of the textured hemp protein and more of our high-protein flour. We’re currently selling hemp flour that is used in baking and that’s about a 55% protein content. And we’re putting in a pilot production line so we can produce the ProPasta meals here in our facility in Colorado to a point. When we really get into big distribution, then we’ll go to a co-manufacturer that has larger lines that can build the ProPasta meals. We’ve also hired a lot of staff. We’ve had to bring on quality control people and commercialization people. So that’s been some of the spend as well.

What other news should investors expect in the short to medium term?

We’ve announced the launch of our ProPasta line. Our big retail push is going to be in March, when there’s a big trade show in the US that is the place to bring your products to market and get in front of all the retailers.

Then we’ve got some new meat alternative products we’re working on. We’re finishing the purchase of the equipment for that. We will have some products coming out probably toward the middle of next year. 

The other thing we’re working on is the egg replacement capability that hemp has. In the food industry, when big food companies use eggs, they usually don’t use liquid eggs, they use egg powder and normally egg white powder. But because it’s an allergen and because it’s an animal product, a lot of food manufacturers want to get rid of it. We’ve developed an egg white powder replacement using hemp that will sell commercially. We use it in our own products, but we’ll also sell it. That’s going to be a game-changer because it will be a unique product. There are very few plant proteins that can mimic eggs so this is going to be a big item for us on the B2B side.

What would you say to investors looking at this space? What makes Nepra Foods stand out?

You look for innovation, you look for companies that are meeting the needs of consumers, and consumers are looking for nutrition and taste and texture. A lot of the plant protein companies are using old ingredients – soy or gluten. It’s not very innovative. I think a lot of companies, too, if you look at small public companies, don’t have revenue, or have very low revenue. We are not a new company. We’ve been around for years and we’ve got existing revenue and we’ve got multiple revenue streams because we sell ingredients B2B. And then we also have our own consumer side. I think it really gives us a leg up for success in the future. 

This story was featured in the Canadian Securities Exchange magazine.

Learn more about Nepra Foods at https://neprafoods.com/.

Nabati Foods Global: Reach into retail, food service and international markets fuels expectations for strong growth in 2022

Consumers are making a conscious choice to eat more plant-based foods, both from a personal health perspective and to lessen their impact on the environment. Recently listed Nabati Foods Global (CSE:MEAL) is well positioned to benefit from this trend by providing natural, plant-based, gluten- and soy-free foods for consumers who make healthy eating a priority.

Operating since 2014, the family-founded food technology company has four signature product lines: dairy free cheesecakes, cheese alternatives, plant-based meats and a plant-based liquid egg alternative.

“There are a lot of consumers, so-called flexitarians, that are plant-based-curious and want to dip their toes into the water for the first time,” Nabati Foods interim Chief Executive Officer Michael Aucoin tells Canadian Securities Exchange Magazine. “And for us, that means providing the best experience possible – designing our products with great flavour and providing great product delivery.”

Aucoin brings more than 25 years of consumer packaged goods experience to his role, including as former Vice President of Sales at Hershey Canada. Nabati is relying on Aucoin’s expertise to help the company achieve its next phase of growth.

That growth is being driven by rising consumer demand for plant-based foods. In the United States, the market is valued at US$7 billion and expanded by 27% in 2020, according to the Plant-Based Foods Association. Interestingly, growth topped 25% in all US census regions, underscoring that the shift to healthier food choices is very broad-based in nature.

Nabati has already established first-mover advantage in one part of the Canadian marketplace with its Nabati Plant Eggz, a plant-based egg alternative that is free of all major allergens. The product is gluten-free, soy-free, cholesterol-free, vegan, kosher and made without genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or refined sugar.

Unlike other plant-based food producers that focus solely on the retail consumer, Nabati can also tailor its packaging to meet food service industry needs, a market segment that Aucoin says the company is attracting strong interest from, particularly due to the innovative nature of its products.

“A great example of this is our team being able to develop a cheese product that really mimics pizza cheese in terms of milk quality, which isn’t always the case with plant-based cheese, so we’re pretty excited about that,” Aucoin says.

According to Aucoin, the key to growing the company’s revenue is building a distribution network, and to that end Nabati already has products featured in more than 700 locations across North America. Some of its more recognizable nationwide retailers in Canada include Sobeys, Metro, Safeway, Whole Foods and online at Costco.ca, as well as food service outlets such as Cobs Bread and Mucho Burrito.

“The company has established distribution in South Korea, with other countries about to come on board,” Aucoin adds. In October 2021, Nabati announced that it was partnering with Nanum Foods to distribute Nabati Plant Eggz and dairy-free cheesecakes to retail store in South Korea and Vietnam. The products will be sold in Asia under the brand ITABAN.

Also in October, the company said it was partnering with IMCD Japan, a leading specialty chemicals and food ingredients distributor, to distribute Nabati’s full product line in Japan. The partnership will focus on distribution via food service, industrial and grocery channels.

“It’s about taking those great products and putting them in front of more consumers, building out our marketing plans to be able to communicate the quality of those products, and finding ways to have people sample. I think that’s one of the big opportunities across plant-based products,” Aucoin explains.

Aucoin says that Nabati has an innovative R&D team to determine how the company can evolve its product portfolio beyond the current four categories and capitalize on the next big plant-based food idea.

Over the next year, the interim CEO says he wants to see Nabati deliver “dramatic” revenue growth to a point where gross margin dollars translate all the way to the bottom line. 

“If you look at what our team’s done the last six to nine months, they’ve set up the business from an operational standpoint where we have material availability now to ship significantly more, which is a very good setup,” Aucoin says.

He adds that from a capacity perspective, the Nabati team has also been mindful of securing adequate inventories of strategic ingredients, as there’s been concern within the industry about availability of these crucial inputs.

In the longer term, Aucoin wants the company to continue to understand where the consumer is going and to enhance its brand to become an unquestioned leader in the plant-based space.

“In five to 10 years, we’ll have a material footprint in other major markets around the world, continue to evaluate whitespace opportunities from an R&D perspective to broaden our product line, and build upon our past success,” Aucoin concludes. “We’re very bullish about our future.”

This story was featured in the Canadian Securities Exchange magazine.

Learn more about Nabati Foods Global at https://invest.nabatifoods.com/.

Blender Bites takes its delicious blend of nutrition and convenience across North America

As with many a budding food-focused entrepreneur before her, it all began in the kitchen for Chelsie Hodge.

Incorporating three smoothies into her daily diet had Hodge feeling sharp and energized. But on the flip side, preparing the healthy drinks with fresh ingredients took no small amount of time each day, and what did not get used ended up taking significant space in her refrigerator or being discarded.

Leveraging her experience as a business development officer at plant-based protein and sport nutrition powerhouse Vega, Hodge made it her mission to reformulate what it means to make a smoothie.

Her invention was a frozen “puck” containing everything required for a tasty, nutritious smoothie, save for a splash of water, soy milk or other dairy alternative. No fuss, no food waste, just a few seconds in the blender and the drink is ready to enjoy. 

Some four years later, Hodge’s clever creation is available in more than 850 grocery stores across Canada. And in September of last year, Blender Bites (CSE:BITE) became a publicly traded company, with founder Hodge at the helm as Chief Executive Officer. 

In Blender Bites’ first year, Hodge’s kitchen was the centre of production, her mother and aunts by her side to help make enough product to meet demand. 

While many makers of healthy foods look to specialty stores for distribution, Hodge saw the potential to go mainstream right out of the gate. 

Whole Foods Market and Fresh St. Market/IGA, two of Western Canada’s largest grocery store chains, were the first major retailers to embrace the pre-portioned smoothie. Safeway, Sobeys, Save-On-Foods and other leading grocery brands weren’t far behind.

“The freezer category was just dying for innovation,” Hodge explains. There’s this mindset amongst consumers that frozen is unhealthy and fresh is so much better. Education is needed to change people’s minds, as frozen actually has more nutrition most of the time because it is flash frozen.”

Blender Bites is innovative when it comes to packaging as well, by being minimal rather than fancy. This commitment to respecting the environment complements the nutritional profile of the product, which is certified organic, vegan and non-GMO. With gluten, dairy, soy and added sugars absent from the ingredient list, Blender Bites are perfect for consumers with food intolerances, too.

Today, Hodge says Blender Bites is growing “very rapidly” after launching into Costco in Eastern Canada with reformulated and rebranded products in three lines: green dtox, power berry and vita smoothie. The products are currently available at Costco locations in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. 

Just how rapidly the business is expanding became clear recently when the company announced a 990% year-on-year increase in purchase order volume for December 2021, to $495,000. Demand was strong all around, with orders also coming in from existing and new club stores carrying the brand, plus many of the Canadian retailers with Blender Bites already on their shelves. 

With a well-established, and growing, presence in Canada, Blender Bites has its sights set on the US market. It announced its first order from “the world’s leading club store chain” in December and expects more US club stores to begin carrying Blender Bites soon. Costco Wholesale warehouses in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma are the first of the chain’s US locations to carry the products. 

A direct-to-consumer platform for the US market is also in the works.

Hodge notes that another big opportunity for Blender Bites is in the food service industry, which includes restaurants, cafes and hotels where smoothie drinks are popular but time-consuming to prepare.

“They just don’t have the people to sit there and chop up the fruits and vegetables or take ingredients and make a recipe for a smoothie,” says Hodge. “Blender Bites is a solution that could be extremely lucrative.”

Financially, the company is getting stronger as well. It raised just under $3.9 million as part of its go-public transaction last September. The shares are also listed on the Frankfurt exchange and the company is eyeing a listing on the OTC market in the US.

For 2022, Blender Bites is targeting between $6 million and $7.5 million in annual revenue as big name retailers embrace its products. 

“We’ve got accounts like Kroger and Albertsons and Wegmans and Walmart and Target on our list for retail for the US and we are focusing on the bigger accounts,” Hodge says. 

“Public companies like to acquire other brands and as soon as I’ve built up the team a little more, I think we’d have the capacity to look at that down the road. It is in the plans for the company, for sure.”

For the current year, though, the Blender Bites CEO plans to remain focused on further market penetration and expansion into food service, retail and club stores. 

“We’ve come a long way in a short time and when I think about our products being enjoyed by people right across North America, I’m really proud of our team,” says Hodge. “But there is so much opportunity to expand market share and penetrate huge new sales channels that I feel we’re really only just getting started.”

This story was featured in the Canadian Securities Exchange magazine.

Learn more about Blender Bites at https://blenderbites.com/.

Plant Veda Foods: With its plant-based dairy products flying off shelves, this conscientious company’s business outlook is soaring too

Armed with a master’s degree in computer science from California’s Northwestern Polytechnic University, Sunny Gurnani was working for tech giants like eBay. He was poised for a career in technology in Silicon Valley, but keen business sense and a kind heart led him to co-found a plant-based dairy company instead.

Since its launch in 2019, Vancouver-based Plant Veda (CSE:MILK) has developed award-winning plant-based dairy alternatives. The firm’s cashew milk, dairy-free coffee creamers, lassi (drinkable yogurts) and PlantGurt cashew yogurts have landed on shelves in more than 200 stores, with demand outstripping supply.

The engineer-turned-entrepreneur reveals that he and his wife committed to the vegan lifestyle epitomized by Plant Veda a decade ago.

“My wife was expecting our first child and we had gone to a vegan restaurant in California. It had flashcards that described the way cows in the dairy industry were treated,” says Gurnani, Plant Veda’s Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer.

“For cows to produce milk, they have to give birth, so the cows are constantly impregnated. When the calves are born, they are taken away from their mothers. Male calves are often killed straight after being born. My wife and I were expecting our first child – it was horrifying to see the animal cruelty.”

Unsettled, Gurnani drilled deep into articles and documentaries on the dairy industry. Haunted by footage of animal cruelty, Gurnani, who was vegetarian in India, turned vegan and has since abstained from animal products like dairy and eggs.

“I studied vegan diets and their nutritional value, and around a year before this information my father had died due to his heart condition. I felt such regret as my father could have reversed his heart disease by shifting to a whole food, plant-based diet,” says Gurnani.

In 2012, Gurnani wanted to start his own company in the US, but his H-1B visa immigrant status had him tied in the knots. Legally, the couple couldn’t launch a start-up in the US, so they built a certified organic plant-based dairy company called Go-Vegan, and later Nutriva, in India, while holding down jobs in California. Go Vegan preceded Plant Veda and made soy milk, ice cream and tofu.

“By day I was an engineer in Silicon Valley and at night I was running a plant-based dairy in India. My wife got a permit and was running a vegan food truck in California, where she started selling her plant-based lassis and yogurts.”

Tired of waiting for US Green Cards, the enterprising couple immigrated to Canada with their business blueprint for Plant Veda.

“We wanted to do well by doing good. A plant-based business is ethical, good for the planet and has several health benefits,” says Gurnani.

“We decided to move to Vancouver and registered for Canada’s largest vegan and vegetarian show, the Veg Expo, even before reaching Canada. At Veg Expo on May 5, 2019, we launched Plant Veda’s drinkable yogurt cashew lassi in five different flavours.”

Plant Veda’s breakthrough creamy lassi, a traditional yogurt drink cherished in South Asia, was the right product at the right place. It won the Veg Expo Product of the Year award in 2019 and the Clean Choice Award from Clean Eating Magazine in 2021.

To be a heavy hitter in the $900 million specialty beverage market, Plant Veda has positioned itself as a “healthier, wholesome and sustainable” plant-based dairy company.

“We don’t use artificial flavours. Our mango lassi is made with cashew yogurt and chunks of whole alphonso mango. Our lassi contains a special blend of 10 billion probiotics,” says Gurnani.

Plant Veda’s lassi line of drinkable yogurts has five flavours: mango, blueberry, strawberry, saffron cardamom and turmeric ginger.

Plant Veda Co-Founder Vanita Gurnani, Director of Product Innovation, says that working out how to emulate the texture, taste and appearance of the plant-based products took patience and good ingredients.

“I was born and raised in Anand in Gujarat, which is the dairy capital of India. I grew up loving dairy products so after becoming vegan I was missing all these things. When we started Plant Veda it was very important to get the right taste and texture,” says Vanita.

“We also wanted our products to be healthy and that’s why we always use wholesome ingredients such as Canadian maple and agave to lightly sweeten our products. There are no artificial sugars, high-fructose corn syrup or oils in our products. They are wholesome, tasty and healthy.”

The Plant Veda Innovation Centre is a 25,000 square foot facility on Annacis Island in Delta, British Columbia. It’s a springboard for new product development and large-scale production. The ongoing Phase 1 upgrade will bring annual yogurt production to 2.5 million litres, up from 100,000 litres.

In a nutshell, the Delta facility will propel the production of  $10 million worth of products a year, according to the company. By 2022, Plant Veda says that with “minimal additional upgrades” the facility will be churning out 15 million litres of product. The expansion could catapult Plant Veda’s annual revenue to $60 million in a few years, according to the company’s growth blueprint.

In addition, the Delta facility will be a plant-based go-to-market hub for innovation, production and distribution.

“We’ve invested considerable capital and effort to convert the facility to a fully plant-based innovation centre with designs, upgrades, equipment and processes best suited for plant-based beverage R&D and production,” says Plant Veda President Michael Yang.

Yang says Plant Veda is developing “strategic partnerships with technology vendors” that could also make the Innovation Centre a co-manufacturing facility in Canada.

Dairy is a $490 billion dollar market globally, and the alternative dairy sector is tipped to grow to over $52 billion by 2028 – a 156% leap from $22 billion today, according to Grand View Research.

Ultimately, the popularity of Plant Veda’s lassi catapulted the firm’s products into Whole Foods.

“We are growing our store presence and are in over 200 stores with more chains stocking Plant Veda products in Western Canada with UNFI, Pro Organics and Sysco as our distribution partners,” says Plant Veda Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer Mayur Sajnani.

“We will expand our presence and expect strong growth in revenue in 2022 as we list our PlantGurt probiotic yogurt line in stores,” Sajnani adds.

The PlantGurt product line was launched in November 2021 in three flavours: plain unsweetened, mango and blueberry.

One tub of PlantGurt yogurt contains billions of probiotics. The recent boom in probiotic products reflects an effort to re-introduce bacteria believed to promote good health. The global probiotics market size is expected to reach $95.25 billion by 2028, according to Grand View Research.

After establishing itself in Canada, it is coming time for Plant Veda to go full-circle and move into the US market. “As we expand geographically to the US from Canada, we are going to see explosive growth and are working on setting up a distribution centre with a third party in the US,” says Sajnani. 

This story was featured in the Canadian Securities Exchange magazine.

Learn more about Plant Veda Foods at https://www.plantveda.com/

Mindset Pharma: Pursuing breakthroughs in the psychedelics field with the help of “hard science”

Psychedelic drug researchers have moved mountains over the last 30 years, helping to show that these misunderstood substances have vast potential to benefit people, while being safe and non-addictive.

Today, psilocybin is in Phase 2b clinical trials, MDMA is in Phase 3, and the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has given both trials breakthrough therapy status. There is tremendous momentum behind getting psychedelic drugs approved against a backdrop of two frustrating trends in North America: the opioid crisis and the negative effect of COVID-19 on mental health.

Mindset Pharma (CSE:MSET) saw early on that there would be a wave of interest in using psychedelic drugs as medication, but that ultimately there would be even more interest in next-generation drugs delivering greater benefits as medication with full patent protection.

From the outset, the company’s goal was to apply drug design, behavioural pharmacology and medicinal chemistry, which are essentially the tools of modern pharmacy, to try to harness the power of psychedelic drugs. 

Chief Executive Officer James Lanthier joined Mindset in early 2020 and was sold not only on the calibre of the scientists involved, but the specific strategy the team had developed.

“We’re applying hard science to these substances to try to create the best possible medications for people – that’s it, full stop,” Lanthier explains. “There’s now tremendous evidence to suggest that psychedelics have a breakthrough role to play to treat psychiatric mood disorders, but in our view, the classic psychedelic drugs did have some shortcomings.”

Essentially, Mindset wants to create new drugs that deliver the same or superior benefit but will work more predictably for the widest possible patient set. The team selected a psilocybin-like compound known as MSP-1014 from its Family Number One of novel drugs. The group of compounds is structurally closer to psilocybin but has the potential to deliver a more pronounced psychedelic experience than psilocybin does at similar doses. Given its higher efficacy, the drug would boast an improved safety profile because, theoretically, a patient could take less of it in order to achieve the same effect.

When Mindset tested MSP-1014 in mice and compared it to psilocybin at a range of doses, the company found that psilocybin reduced body temperature by as much as nearly six degrees, which is hardly a nominal amount. MSP-1014, however, showed no effect on body temperature, an early indication of the compound’s safety profile.

Another interesting piece of data from the lab studies confirmed MSP-1014 was comparable to psilocybin after a drug discrimination assay. In the lab, rats were able to determine the distinction between MSP-1014 and saline, which gives even further credence to the drug’s efficacy. “When we take a drug into clinical trials, you want to have as much confidence as possible that the drug is going to be effective and safe,” Lanthier says. “It’s another strong data point that will help us move forward with more confidence.”

Psilocybin is showing promise in early trials, but its effects can last up to eight hours. Mindset is hoping to tackle that challenge with its Family Four group of DMT analogues, which could offer similar benefits in a therapeutic context but with a much shorter trip of between 15 to 30 minutes. Its lead candidate in that group is MSP-4018, which is being compared against a serotonin analogue known as 5-MEO-DMT found in plant species and toad venom.

Researchers think this could be useful for in-clinic psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy. Because 5-MEO-DMT results in a total duration of experience of between 10 minutes and two hours, it would mean less time to spend in a clinic and fewer resources needed to treat a patient. 

Mindset’s research uncovered meaningful safety improvements with MSP-4018. “We saw signs of serotonin syndrome at a whole range of doses with 5-MEO DMT, which is a really unpleasant basket of symptoms that can afflict people with high levels of serotonin in their bodies,” Lanthier says. “MSP-4018 showed no signs of serotonin syndrome, but we saw behaviour that suggested that it was just as psychedelic as 5-MEO DMT. It’s really encouraging because it looks like we’ve got a drug that is just as psychedelic but potentially quite a bit safer.”

All of this is a step toward proving the concept behind Mindset to make better drugs than the original psychedelic by applying science. The company is building its value on those tweaks and improvements.

“This is about creating new chemical designs that make changes to the structure of the original drug, and then testing them rigorously to see the effect of the changes,” Lanthier explains.

Essentially, Mindset is changing the underlying molecule, synthesizing the elements of the particular drug. It’s an important distinction from its peer group, as companies can patent protect this type of intellectual property to a much greater degree than a formulation of the original drug.

“If you’re not changing the active pharmaceutical ingredient, but just putting it in a different solution, the level of intellectual property rights is quite shallow,” Lanthier states. “Another group can come along with a slightly different formulation and compete against you.”

In Mindset’s case, they’re getting intellectual property rights on the composition of matter, which Lanthier calls the “gold standard.”

The group has also selected two indications for its lead therapy MSP-1014: treatment-resistant depression and end-of-life cancer anxiety. Both are tragic mood disorders with, sadly, large populations.

Nearly 30% of people who suffer from depression do not find relief from traditional antidepressants or therapy sessions. It’s a field where pharmaceutical companies haven’t brought many innovations in the past few decades, leaving it ripe for psychedelic drugs to fill the void. And potentially, very lucrative: by dollar value, antidepressants represent a $15 billion industry.

Now comes the hard part. Mindset is hoping to move out of the lab and into clinical trials in 2022, which does not come without risks. As all drug discovery companies know, success in the lab doesn’t always translate to success in clinical trials. It takes a while to do all the testing and work through regulatory requirements until the drug gets to a point where regulators are comfortable having them taken by humans. 

But psychedelic discovery is different than many other drug discovery efforts because there is so much data available on how existing psychedelics work.

“Based on all the data, we have a pretty high level of confidence that many of these drugs will have a role to play in treating neuropsychiatric and mood disorders,” Lanthier says. “We’re not reinventing the wheel – we’re simply trying to make changes to the chemical structures that will make them safer and more effective. So, it’s a bit different than a typical biotech venture that’s working on something that’s brand new.”

The goal for Mindset is to stick to what they’re good at: discovering and developing new psychedelic drugs. The firm is positioning itself to partner with other groups, be it pharmaceutical firms or psychedelic companies, that want to get into the space and have the expertise and infrastructure to run clinical trials. 

“We don’t think that we’re going to have to raise billions of dollars to become the next Pfizer and take these drugs through late-stage clinical trials,” Lanthier notes. “We think there will be lots of opportunities for Mindset because we were filing intellectual property early and developing data early.”

This story was featured in the Canadian Securities Exchange magazine.

Learn more about Mindset Pharma at https://www.mindsetpharma.com/

Wesana Health: Leveraging personal and professional experience to help patients achieve better mental health outcomes

Former Chicago Blackhawks enforcer Daniel Carcillo spent much of his NHL career getting inside the heads of opposing teams, making sure they knew that if they crossed a certain line, things could go sideways.

Today, Carcillo is an entrepreneur whose mission is, for all intents and purposes, the opposite of what he did on the ice. Instead of contributing to head injuries, he now seeks to heal them.

The transition from hard charging two-time Stanley Cup winner to source of hope for people with mental health challenges began in 2015 when a seventh diagnosed concussion forced Carcillo into early retirement. At age 30, he entered the most emotional and anguished time of his life.

Years of fierce competition, and having his body repeatedly slammed into the ice, the boards, and competing players, resulted in Carcillo suffering traumatic brain injury (TBI). The undercurrent of anxiety and depression during early retirement got so bad that Carcillo, a husband and father, contemplated suicide.

He spent five years trying different concussion treatments, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process. But it was all for naught. Carcillo found he was no closer to improving his brain health and quality of life. He hit rock bottom.

Then in 2019, hallucinogenic mushrooms helped him begin to turn things around. The experience compelled him to start a new journey assisting others suffering TBI-related symptoms. Athletes, soldiers, domestic violence victims and people recovering from serious accidents are among the many types of patients in need.

Healthy once again and with a new team to lead, Carcillo is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Wesana Health Holdings (CSE:WESA). His mission with Wesana is to revolutionize the way neurological health and performance is treated through personalized medicine and bringing the promise of psychedelic drug-assisted therapy to the masses using psilocybin to treat TBI and migraines. His company is also working with ketamine through their Wesana Clinics and is in partnership discussions with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) to explore the use of MDMA to treat TBI.

“Two and a half years ago, when I was suicidal and in my darkest moments, I used psilocybin in a really responsible setting,” Carcillo explains. “I was able to experience just an amazing recovery. And since then, we have found ways to establish Wesana with an outstanding team. We have this innovation that we think will help millions of people.”

Research suggests that psilocybin can create new neurons and new neural pathways in the brain, stimulating concussion-affected areas and reversing destructive, habitual thought processes. In Carcillo’s case, he started a regimen that includes occasional large doses of the hallucinogen and regular non-hallucinogenic doses, which are helping to produce normal brain scans and bloodwork. 

“You can rewire the brain, break up destructive thought patterns and then create new, positive ones,” explains Carcillo.

But he is realistic about the challenges Wesana faces in a new, undefined and increasingly crowded industry that must engage in a long dance with US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada regulators to eventually bring life-saving products to market.

“As it stands right now, there’s no approved pharmaceutical for TBI-related symptoms. And the number one cause of death is suicide. I know it all too well,” says Carcillo.

“I also know how fragmented everything is in this space, from treatment to research. And there are so many gaps and what makes it hard on the patients is getting a diagnosis. And then number two is finding the treatments. We’re here to make as big an impact as we can to positively influence this process for survivors and make it easier on them and their families and caregivers to understand what’s going on and then get them healing.”

Operationally, Wesana heads into the latter half of 2021 with a $21 million runway and plenty of media attention, stemming partly from Carcillo’s fame and passionate advocacy for psychedelic drug-assisted therapy.

In the product development pipeline, the company is advancing its SANA 0013 through the preclinical stage studying psilocybin to treat TBI-related major depressive disorder. Wesana is making headway with the FDA, as it has scheduled a pre-Investigational New Drug (IND) meeting with regulators around year’s end, to be followed by the opening of the IND in the third quarter of 2022.

While psilocybin remains the company’s focus, it recently staked its claim in the markets for ketamine and MDMA, two drugs far ahead in the regulatory approval process. Carcillo readily acknowledges that bringing psilocybin-based therapies to market will take years, as the drug remains illegal in the US, as does MDMA. The FDA approved ketamine as an anesthetic for humans in 1970.

To further its expansion, Wesana acquired Psychedelitech (known as PsyTech) in September 2021, gaining a chain of mental health clinics that can administer ketamine therapies.

Wesana also picked up a software platform that helps clinicians track patient outcomes in real time and supports a community forum of over 8,000 professionals, many of them respected resources for psychedelic therapy protocols and clinical best practices.

For MDMA, also known as the popular recreational drug “ecstasy” or “molly,” the company has developed a partnership with MAPS, which is mulling an MDMA-assisted therapy program to treat TBI. Wesana has committed to provide an initial US$1.5 million to assess the program’s viability and might establish a joint venture with MAPS.

MAPS’ research has primarily focused on MDMA-assisted therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an affliction common among soldiers that causes similar mental health symptoms and outcomes as TBI. MAPS says current FDA-approved Phase 3 trials have demonstrated an 88% reduction in PTSD symptoms among participants.

“Using this medicine, MDMA can help alleviate that emotional spike during conversations, so it’s easier to deal with trauma,” says Carcillo, who envisions teaming with MAPS to create a “gold standard” of clinics. “Think of it in the context of why it worked so well for PTSD. And so for TBI, that journey is no different.” 

Laying the groundwork for an even deeper understanding of TBI, Carcillo says Wesana has formed partnerships with the World Boxing Council (WBC) and the University of South Carolina as it seeks methods to prevent, or at least minimize, TBI-related damage during boxing matches and other athletic competitions. Wesana will also be using the RESOLV lab to phenotype the TBI patient population that will be participating in the Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials. 

“What can we be doing as far as exercises and supplementation to better protect the brain?” Carcillo asks. “For example, when a WBC fighter knows they’re training for a fight, what can we do to better protect them? What can we implement, as far as supplements, to be neuroprotective before the fight to lessen the damage, and then train for processing speed, hand-eye coordination, reaction time, and neck strength that minimize TBI damage on the front end?”

At the university, the company plans to spend $1.5 million to establish the BrainStorm Lab, which will serve as a hub for neurological and cognitive improvement research, with an eye on developing compounds to enhance neural performance and act as neuroprotectants of the brain. The lab will also work with the US military – which has a large presence in South Carolina – on pre-battle protection and acute post-injury scenarios.

Looking ahead, Carcillo says Wesana plans to rapidly expand the acquisition of clinics and develop more partnerships while pushing along its drug development programs. Plans also include publishing two major white papers on TBI with a group of leading scientists, neuroscientists and pathologists. 

Carcillo, in the meantime, continues working to maintain his mental health while remaining busy growing Wesana with Co-Founder Chad Bronstein. But there is more at stake for him on his new personal journey – he is inspiring others through advocacy, action and education.

“It’s definitely a young space, but an exciting space to really impact people, and treat their traumas rather than putting on band aids and trying to manage symptomatology,” Carcillo concludes. “You have to kind of pinch yourself some days. It’s the most exciting thing to be a part of, trying to positively impact that.”

This story was featured in the Canadian Securities Exchange magazine.

Learn more about Wesana Health at https://www.wesanahealth.com/

Bright Minds Biosciences: A vision for “next generation” psychedelic medicines to treat neurological conditions

With the COVID-19 pandemic upending life in every corner of the world and putting unwelcome pressure on people vulnerable to depression, suicide and addiction, there has never been a better time to consider new treatments for mental health challenges. One field gaining particularly rapid traction is psychedelics.

Of course, substances such as LSD and magic mushrooms have been around for years. They are known for their “mind-altering” qualities, both positive and negative, but in many ways the chemical properties of these compounds and their potential to benefit the brain are only just beginning to be understood.

Bright Minds Biosciences (CSE:DRUG) is a biotech company at the vanguard of this movement. Bright Minds is developing the “next generation” of non-addictive psychedelic medicines to treat depression and other neurological conditions and aims to offer an alternative to today’s standard treatments such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), of which the widely known Prozac and Citalopram are but two examples.

“There haven’t really been any new ideas in the last 30 years or so,” says Bright Minds Chief Executive Officer Ian McDonald, who added that while revolutionary when they emerged in the 1990s, SSRIs have not always been best for patient outcomes, as side effects can include weight gain and sexual dysfunction.

SSRIs, he noted, might not work at all, or can even be problematic, for patients suffering from the most severe forms of depression, or people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

McDonald is convinced that psychedelics is the most promising field for making progress over the next 20 or 30 years in psychiatric medicine, and that related treatments will help the people most deeply affected by such disorders.

With this in mind, Bright Minds has a portfolio of three patented mechanisms based on serotonin (5-HT) receptors that are being assessed for indications ranging from depression to chronic pain. And with $30 million raised to date, the company is fully funded for Phase 1 trials for two of its drugs, which are due to begin next year.

McDonald is a former investment banker who started getting interested in psychedelics in 2014. He read all he could on the subject and concluded that while the efficacy of such drugs was not in question, they lacked the characteristics needed for the medical establishment and Big Pharma to embrace them.

Bright Minds aims to refine what could be seen as “coarse” substances and repurpose them. To do so, McDonald has assembled a top-notch team of scientists and researchers with extensive backgrounds in pharma and drug development.

Bright Minds Co-Founder Dr. Gideon Shapiro, for example, has over 100 patents to his name and is a leading commercial scientist creating novel psychedelics. He served as head of the Alzheimer chemistry group at Sandoz, the company first responsible for discovering LSD and marketing psilocybin, while Bright Minds’ Chief Scientific Officer and organic chemist Dr. Alan Kozikowski is world-renowned for his work with psychoactive substances.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” says McDonald. “We’re taking compounds that already work and making them better. We’re sanding down the rough edges and polishing them up. I’d say it’s a much less risky approach than a lot of other biotechs who are doing a completely novel mechanism and where there are questions on efficacy.”

It is also worth highlighting that Bright Minds already has “composition of matter” patents covering all of its new chemical entity (NCE) portfolio, giving it a full monopoly over its drugs for 20 years. This approach is more akin to Big Pharma companies, which patent the molecules they invent.

Older drugs such as LSD and MDMA cannot be patented, and some companies simply pursue weaker patent strategies, according to McDonald. For example, they attempt to patent a method of production or the source of a compound. But these can easily be worked around by skilled chemists and may only offer an exclusivity period for five years, after which they become so-called generic drugs.

A drug maker’s profitability is at stake here. McDonald points out that potential revenue for a patented drug for depression, for example, could be between US$10,000 and $30,000 per patient per year compared to around $400 per year for a generic drug.

Indeed, the global market potentially open to Bright Minds is enormous. Antidepressants alone are expected to be worth $16 billion a year by 2025. And McDonald says this figure was based on generic depression drugs. For a patented one, based on the number of patients multiplied by $20,000 a year, the figure reaches an eye-watering $600 billion.

People who do well taking SSRIs will likely stick with them, McDonald concedes, but for that third of the patient population who do not, there is a potential market for alternatives of $200 billion.

The Bright Minds portfolio is already garnering attention. The company is partnering with the US government’s National Institutes of Health to test its drugs for epilepsy and chronic pain, not least to offer an alternative to opioid drugs in the latter case. McDonald says early findings have been encouraging.

In August of this year, the company reported positive pre-clinical data for its BMB-101 candidate (invented by Dr. Kozikowski) in treating the rare form of childhood epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome. This non-psychedelic drug is also being indicated as an antipsychotic for Alzheimer’s and to treat addiction disorders.

BMB-101 will be heading into Phase 1 trials early in 2022, with two Phase 2 studies potentially following in the second half. The company also aims to run a Phase 2 trial for its psychedelic candidate (5-HT2A) for depression and PTSD in 2022, says McDonald.

“We are entering a very catalyst-rich period. We have a number of clinical trials in 2022 coming up within the next year,” he adds.

Bright Minds appears to be a front-runner in this exciting new medical space and McDonald has the resources and team to see his plan through.

“We are really the leaders in this next generation of psychedelics, looking a step further I think than the other companies, and we have the team to do it – they’ve done it before, and we’re all very excited to get these drugs in the clinic and closer to patients.”

This story was featured in the Canadian Securities Exchange magazine.

Learn more about Bright Minds Biosciences at https://brightmindsbio.com

Entheon Biomedical: Data and DMT among the keys to creating safe and effective treatments for patients battling addiction

Entheon Biomedical (CSE:ENBI) Chief Executive Officer Timothy Ko speaks passionately about his company and its objectives within the burgeoning psychedelics industry, not only because he heads one of the most dynamic teams in the space, but also because he credits psychedelics with saving his life.

Following a childhood of challenges that continued into his adult years, Ko ultimately found peace of mind after psychedelic intervention enabled him to look at life differently than he had been, repair important relationships and, as he puts it, “learn to love again.”

Ko’s experience defined what is now a life mission for him. This shined through in an eloquent and authoritative discussion with Canadian Securities Exchange Magazine in mid-September.

It would be difficult to come out of a conversation with Ko not believing that there is something to psychedelic treatments for those working to overcome mental illness. It’s no longer about masking or dulling symptoms, but rather probing the drivers of problematic behaviour and replacing closely held, harm-inducing beliefs with new, healthier ones.

The specifics are best conveyed in Ko’s own words.

Entheon is researching and developing products to help treat addiction. There are already products on the market that are used for this purpose. What are you trying to achieve with your treatments that existing alternatives do not?

I think before I answer that directly, we first have to look at the treatment landscape for addiction as it currently stands. When we assess treatment options available for various addictions – be it tobacco, alcohol, or things like opiates – we see a rather bleak landscape where many of the treatments, though widely available, are not particularly efficacious.

And looking at the population, it is estimated that, globally, over 2% of the population struggles with an alcohol or illicit drug addiction. In spite of the options currently available for addiction recovery we still see hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people die every year as a result of tobacco, alcohol and opioid use disorder. The reality is that many people are rendered treatment-resistant over the course of multiple failed attempts to address their condition.

Entheon believes that we can provide better outcomes for people who have not been helped by previous types of treatment. In our estimation, the treatment-resistant form of addiction is more common than generally thought, and Entheon treatments are designed for people for whom other forms of treatment have failed.

Entheon focuses on a fast-acting hallucinogenic known widely as DMT. Does DMT have advantages over other psychedelics for addiction treatment?

It’s important to demystify what psychedelics do. A really important observation of ours with DMT is that there is a feature that is present in other psychedelic molecules called entropy. Psilocybin, LSD and DMT can induce a state of heightened entropy, or randomness.

That might sound like a bad thing, but when you look at people with pathological conditions, there is often a degree of tunnel vision. These pathologies make it such that a severely depressed person, or an addicted person, is unable to look outside their normal frame of reference. Their reactions to stimulus or experiences are pre-determined, so you have this immobile state where they cannot envision a life outside of the one they have already experienced.

What DMT and other psychedelics do is to promote a state of hyper-connectedness. They allow individuals undergoing psychedelic treatment to enter a highly neuroplastic state that enables them to have entirely new experiences. In combination with therapy, they are able to experience old traumas, belief systems and memories, and rather than go to their pre-defined pathological reaction set, they are able to have perceptions that reshape their experience in a more positive way.

Where DMT is different is that it is very well metabolized by the body, which means the experience is short. Psilocybin is a bit of an unwieldy type of molecule to work with, as it is very powerful and the length of engagement is six to eight hours or longer. That window of engagement is commercially difficult to manage. And because these are such powerful experiences and the individual is often dealing with inherently difficult subject matter, the risk of an overwhelming experience is amplified.

With DMT, we can still facilitate powerful transformational experiences, but you have the benefit of being able to limit them to 30, 60 or 90 minutes. If we need to, we can stop the experience altogether and that person can return to a functional baseline in 10 to 15 minutes. If a person is having a difficult time with psilocybin, however, they are on that rocket ship for as long as the rocket has fuel.

In a recent news release, you discussed treatment algorithms through the Entheon IQ program. What is a treatment algorithm exactly, and what work is required to make the technology widely available?

The way Entheon sees the industry evolving is that there is a broad array of psychiatric conditions, as well as a broad spectrum of individuals appropriate for psychedelic use.

Not everyone will respond the same to different drugs. Different phenotypes will respond differently to different therapies.

What we are doing with Entheon IQ is taking a data-focused approach to look at what individual factors make different drugs and different treatment types appropriate for different individuals. We have acquired a company that has a genetic test that looks at a variety of mental health risk factors based on genetics, as well as a function of metabolic factors that dictate whether a person is more or less likely to have a strong or weak response to drugs. We believe genetics is a very strong component of ensuring that appropriate treatments are prescribed to the right people.

We are also on the verge of launching a study with a partner in Texas looking at different biomarkers associated with the ketamine experience, and we’re also looking at biomarkers associated with DMT.

Without generalizing too much, Entheon IQ and Entheon DNA are working to create biomarkers to help predict and direct appropriate treatments for individuals across a broad spectrum of psychedelic molecules and psychiatric disorders.

Talk to us about your business model. At what point does monetization become a reality, and how do you scale the business?

I think that’s a question that the entirety of the psychedelic drug industry is looking at. The reality is that, as promising as the research is, in the interest of patient safety these development processes are bound to regulatory processes of governing bodies where we seek to commercialize.

We will need to make it through various stages of clinical validation, then have conversations with regulators and ensure our research is done in such a way that the data is irrefutable and highly understandable to the authorities that ensure these products are safe and effective.

The development timeline as it pertains to this approval process is five to 10 years, and we believe that we can have a timeline on the lower end of that range.

But in an earlier time frame, we think the development of tools to service the ketamine space should commercialize sooner.

You have a strong and growing advisory board of accomplished professionals in the addiction treatment space. Tell us how you choose new members for your team.

Our advisory board is among the best in the industry. It is populated by some of the most prominent and well-researched members in the psychedelic research space.

The psychedelic industry is under the general umbrella of science, yet it is highly specialized and the pioneers are limited to a very core group. When we started Entheon, we wanted to make sure we worked with minds that understood the unique properties of psychedelics better than other scientists.

Unlike other medicines that work in respect to brain chemistry, psychedelics take into account poorly understood features of the human psyche that are only now beginning to be characterized. We really wanted to select advisors with the most comprehensive understanding of the features of psychedelic medicine.

Let’s close with a look at the industry in general. Do you come across misconceptions in the broader audience that you feel need to be cleared up?

The stigma associated with psychedelics often unfairly highlights radicalism or esoteric belief systems. There was a comprehensive anti-drug policy in the 1960s and 1970s that sought to vilify psychedelic drugs as potentially catastrophic to society and having no therapeutic value.

Rather than us having to dispel these myths, I think the research is truly bearing out a rebuttal to the notion that there is no therapeutic value to psychedelics. With each passing month, we see more research that shows huge transformational capacity to help people with end-of-life anxiety, nicotine addiction, as well as major depressive disorders.

We exist within a very interesting moment where on a purely scientific basis, not only are these substances not addictive, harmful or detrimental, but they may actually be the molecules with the therapeutic potential to disrupt a system that has seen very little innovation in the past few decades.

This story was featured in the Canadian Securities Exchange magazine.

Learn more about Entheon Biomedical at https://entheonbiomedical.com/

Revitalist Lifestyle and Wellness: On a mission to treat mental health and chronic pain on a global scale with integrated care

An estimated 265 million people worldwide suffer from depression, with the related cost to society – financial and otherwise – almost too great to comprehend. A Stifel GMP research report published in January 2021 indicates that psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy clinics have an addressable market opportunity in the US alone of US$10 billion to $11 billion.

Knoxville, Tennessee-based Revitalist Lifestyle and Wellness (CSE:CALM) operates five ketamine infusion clinics in the United States. The company is dedicated to empowering individuals to achieve improved quality of life through a combination of comprehensive care and future-focused treatments provided by medical professionals, mental health experts and chronic pain specialists.

In a recent interview with Canadian Securities Exchange Magazine, Revitalist Chief Executive Officer Kathryn Walker discussed the company’s growth plans and the advantages of its business model.

How does Revitalist distinguish itself from other publicly traded mental wellness companies? What makes your model better?

Revitalist is the first clinic model to effectively integrate medical and mental health providers working in a team manner with each client. It’s something the medical community has been wanting to do for 30 years, but no one’s really known how to do it. Therapists have started working in medical providers’ offices, but they still don’t work seamlessly on the topic at hand.

The opportunity that we have with psychedelic treatments is that medical providers are making sure the client is safe while the mental health providers are intervening actively during the session, focusing on unfolding the unhealthy conditioning the brain has acquired through many years of ineffective treatments and therapies. We are the first effective model that is being actively covered by insurance, allowing us to expand access to individuals across the country.

What specific roles do psychedelics play in the treatment methods?

At this time, Revitalist primarily provides ketamine infusions. With the psychedelic piece, we have therapists that are trained through the FDA MAPS program. We also have anesthesia providers that have administered every intravenous medication, making them experts in critical care medicine and giving our clients that extra layer of safety and care.

Our anesthesia providers are oftentimes referred to as “pharmacologic physiologists.” In a time where psychedelics are being actively formed in research labs, an excellent person to have on your team is a pharmacologic physiologist. As the pharmacology piece evolves with FDA approval of these exciting medications, the big pharmaceutical companies will want CRNAs (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists) as part of their team, and Revitalist will be able to meet that need.

The mental health system is only about 30% effective with its current treatment models. This includes many of the medications that are prescribed, including SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAs and MAOIs. Anesthesia is more than 99% accurate.

What would you say has been Revitalist’s most significant accomplishment thus far?

I think the most significant accomplishment we have right now is in the works, where we are bringing the inpatient experts to the outpatient world. The providers we have with our company are all top line. They know how the current system operates, and they are aware of what should be converted to this system, and what should not.

Revitalist is here to create an entire new model of healthcare that will bridge the old system of health to the new system of psychedelics.

In the hospital sector, when a patient comes to the hospital, we know we have a team on standby and we are going to work together to give that person the best care they deserve. As medicine and insurance companies have evolved, so has our inpatient healthcare system. Now is the time to recreate a healthier structure that is more cost effective in an outpatient environment.

I personally think the mental health and medical system is imploding. The system is off balance, and everyone in and around it can feel that imbalance. We keep seeing more of it every day. Revitalist and the providers who know that system are reshaping a new one, and we are so ready and excited to do so. We’re able to address this issue not only locally and nationally, but also globally as our medical licenses are able to cross lines in over 39 countries.

The healthcare sector needs to recognize that it is in a transition period. It’s like changing homes. They need to leave behind what isn’t necessary and only take what makes sense for the system going forward. Only providers that understand the “old” system and realize the positivity of the “new” will be able to lead the bridged transition. The providers at Revitalist will be that bridge.

What needs to be done to take Revitalist to the next level? Talk about your growth strategy.

We plan on opening 48 clinics in 2021 and 2022 with a goal of having 157 locations in 2025.

What sets us apart is a shared governance with our clinic model. Our recruitment is key, and it makes us stand alone in this space. We have our lead providers, we have corporate personnel that can also act as providers, and we have our own locum providers. This allows us to create and keep consistency amongst every facility we open.

We provide every clinic we open with access to our operations teams, human resources departments, training centres, and marketing team, allowing robust support to everyone involved with our company.  And that upholds a quality of care that is consistent across the board.

Continuity of care is something we want every person that goes into a Revitalist to know and understand. If you are in Maine or in California and you see a Revitalist, you will know what you can expect from us.

Are the clinics you’re acquiring already profitable? What are their sources of revenue?

We’re probably doing a 90-10 split – that is, we are building 90% of the clinics and then acquiring approximately 10%. The space is very fragmented when it comes to psychedelics, and with ketamine clinics a lot of them are part-time clinics that are not making revenue. These are clinics that others seem to be acquiring, but this is a decision we feel would not benefit our company or our investors. Our location specialists analyze data for facility placements to find the biggest bang for our buck. We place our clinics with strong university presence and veteran hospitals, allowing continuation of our base revenue lines.

What do your shareholders have to look forward to in the next 12 months?

We have so many strategic partnerships coming to fruition. One of the biggest services we offer that sets us apart from the others is the fact that we accept federal and commercial insurance. We are also positioned with Veterans Affairs (VA). We have contracts allowing veterans to be directly referred to us under the protocols specific to the individual VA locations.

I think we’ll see insurance companies learn to accept it more. And we do have our own internal insurance team of specialists which, again, sets us apart immensely. We will be able to provide access to this on a cost-saving basis. If you look at what we need to operate, it’s about 10% cost-wise as compared to our competitors. We have so many projects going on behind the scenes, it’s going to be exciting seeing it all unfold.

One of the many reasons we are cost effective is because of the prices we charge. Our average is $275 per infusion, and I know some of our competitors charge on average around $1,200. If you’re charging $1,200, that’s really going to limit a lot of individuals’ access to these services, especially when they’re not accepting insurance. Given that we can accept insurance and our cost is significantly lower, I think you’ll see the need for our services develop much more quickly. For our investors, we’re working on becoming the first comprehensive psychedelic centre in the world.

This story was featured in the Canadian Securities Exchange magazine.

Learn more about Revitalist Lifestyle and Wellness at https://revitalist.com/

4Front Ventures: A “House of Operators” focusing on the sweet spot in the cannabis value chain

There are many ways to achieve success in the cannabis industry, but the core of most business plans tends to reflect one of two extremes: complete vertical integration or a focus on just one field, be it cultivation, processing or retailing.

4Front Ventures (CSE:FFNT) is positioned firmly in the former camp and styles itself as a “House of  Operators.” The company operates in multiple states, cultivating and retailing mass-produced, low-cost, yet high-quality branded cannabis products.

4Front’s brand portfolio spans more than 21 names, including Marmas, Crystal Clear, Funky Monkey, Pebbles, and the Pure Ratios wellness collection. The brands feature prominently in third-party retail outlets as well as in 4Front’s own chain of Mission dispensaries in Illinois, Massachusetts and Michigan.

Additionally, the company plans to bring its brands to the world’s largest cannabis market later this year when it commences operations at what is expected to be one of the biggest manufacturing facilities in the United States, at 170,000 square feet in Commerce, California.

Public Entrepreneur sat down with 4Front Ventures Chief Investment Officer Andrew Thut recently to find out what makes the company tick.

The “House of Operators” concept sees your team operate multiple divisions across the cannabis value chain. Can you explain to us how this works?

At 4Front, we have licenses and operations in five states. Notably, our facilities in Washington state have a dominant position in that market – we have close to a 10% market share, and rank as the number two flower producer and number one edibles producer.

Our strategy is really quite straightforward. Longer term, you don’t want to be a cultivator, though it is necessary, particularly in these early stages of the market. We also don’t want to be a large retailer.

We think the value in the industry is going to be in manufacturing finished goods, meaning having branded products in the market that people really enjoy and that have dominant market share.

As a result, we’re replicating the low-cost finished goods production that we’ve fine-tuned in the Washington facilities, and we’re putting this into four other states: Massachusetts, Illinois, California and Michigan. We’re also hoping to get a license in New Jersey.

In a nutshell, if you can get a customer because of a great product at an excellent price, you tend to take outsized market share. And because we have low-cost production, we have the ability to offer customers great value and still make very good margins.

You are completing a new manufacturing facility in California and your production is increasing. Do you have plans to begin selling excess product into the wholesale market?

Absolutely. In California, we are ready to roll out what, to my knowledge, is the largest cannabis production facility in the world. It’s about 170,000 square feet and we’re going to make our entire product line of tinctures, edibles, gel caps, vape pens and infused pre-rolls there.

As mentioned, we have developed what we think is some of the industry’s lowest cost production in our Washington facilities. But because we’re going into California, which is the biggest cannabis market in the world, we’re able to invest a lot more on automation. We’re basically taking the low-cost methodologies developed in Washington and putting them on steroids for the California market.

This is really a large-scale consumer packaged goods facility, and we intend to have the capacity to do about half a billion dollars of revenue out of it. We plan to really attack the California market and put all of our products into it eventually, starting this summer.

Your retail model is customer-centric and highly scalable. How did you develop your model into what it is today?

We started officially in 2011 as a consultancy for the industry and developed one of the earliest training programs, not only for cultivation and production personnel but also for retail staff.

When we look at what differentiates us from a retail standpoint, it’s having a warm and welcoming environment for customers. We’re trying to normalize the cannabis experience but we’re also having really knowledgeable sales staff there.

And we also have what we think is a terrific breadth of product in the store, together with great availability of that product, meaning we’re not out of stock often because we are producing most of what we sell.

We also lead on price. In cannabis, you have what we call an 80/20 rule back from my finance days, where 80% of the product is consumed by 20% of the customers. And those customers that are big consumers of cannabis are very, very price sensitive, which means they’re looking for a quality product at a terrific price. That’s exactly what we are giving them.

4Front says it has some of the best minds in the industry, providing depth of knowledge and operational expertise. Are there other areas you could adapt this expertise to?

This is a very nascent industry and we think that we are in the second inning of what is roughly a $100 billion industry here in the US. 

We are so early that some of the big alcohol, tobacco and consumer packaged goods companies haven’t really been able to enter the space because they trade on US exchanges that will not allow them to enter a federally illegal business.

We have a lot of the boxes checked with the consumer products expertise that we bring, plus a finance team that has been in the game for over 20 years. So, we have the ability to navigate the capital markets and capitalize the projects that we need to fund.

All of this is in preparation for building out our beachhead well before some of the bigger brands come in. We feel that if we can prove that we have tried and true production methodologies that would be valuable to a larger player, with products and brands that would also be valuable and that have meaningful market share in the states in which we operate, then that would be attractive to other folks that come in.

We’re really focused on executing on that in a terrific industry where you’re learning new things every day, and we’re just plotting our own course as the industry unfolds. But it’s mostly about keeping your head down and making sure that you’re executing and creating products that customers love.

What can investors expect from 4Front in the medium term?

We have a great growth trajectory in front of us. We’re in five states currently and, hopefully, we’ll add New Jersey. We have a lot of confidence in our capabilities and our business. And when we go into a state where we can execute, and the numbers start to bear that out, we are seeing great revenue growth and profitability. When you’re taking market share, you want to take on more projects and have more assets that you can operate and sprinkle your know-how and pixie dust on.

4Front is very much in growth mode. We’ve been very clear to the market that we want to be bigger and have aspirations to be very solidly in that top 10. And we think that as this industry continues to unfold, we’re going to be part of that conversation.

I think investors should really figure out where they want to be in the value chain and look at who has executed.

We think the sweet spot is in consumer packaged goods, so that’s where we want to be. And we have a very clear runway to create a lot of value organically, just with the plan we have in front of us.

I would also say to stay tuned for a lot of M&A that’s going to come in the cannabis space in the coming year. People are looking to get bigger; people are looking to fill out geographies; they’re looking to fill out skill sets they don’t have. I think there is going to be a big wave of M&A in the industry over the next 12 to 18 months.

This story was featured in the Canadian Securities Exchange magazine.

Learn more about 4Front Ventures at https://4frontventures.com/