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CBD: Biosynthesis vs. Organic Synthesis - Which Can Best Keep Pace with the Future Market?

Updated: Apr 17, 2022

What’s driving the explosive demand for more and better CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is viewed by some as “the next healthcare phenomenon.” Why? Because it’s a natural, non-psychoactive chemical with no known serious side effects that has gained considerable attention from consumers and medical researchers for its therapeutic benefits (1). Its value in the treatment of psychiatric disorders has been proven, and the first (and so far only) CBD-based pharmaceutical was approved by the FDA in 2018 (2,3). Per the US National Institutes of Health, CBD is currently being used in studies for the treatment of chronic pain, inflammation, anxiety, mental health disorders, cognition, and movement disorders (4).

Applications for CBD continue to expand across diverse industries such as cosmetics, skin care, health and wellness, food and beverage and pet products, as well as to advance medical research and pharmaceuticals. The collective market for CBD sales is expected to exceed $20 billion in the United States by 2024, which translates to 120,000 kilograms of CBD per year (5). This demand for massively greater quantities of CBD coincides with higher requirements for CBD quality, purity, and production scalability (6).

Production scalability is critical for escalating demand

The term scalability refers to the ability of a production method to quickly and seamlessly respond to changes in product demand. When the task is to supply ever increasing quantities of pure, safe and consistently performing CBD in sufficient quantities for both commercial and medical applications, production methodology – particularly its scalability and cost effectiveness – is a critical “make-or-break” factor. In an expanding market, the ideal production method is one that offers rapid responsiveness and scale-up capability without compromising product quality, turnaround time, batch yield, or cost-efficiency.

Biosynthesis vs. Organic Synthesis

The worldwide market has been urgently waiting for a trustworthy, science-backed CBD product that can be cost-efficiently produced to scale. In the second Nalu Bio blog post, we reviewed the three methods of producing cannabinoid extracts: hemp-based extraction, biosynthesis and organic synthesis. The overwhelming limitations of hemp-based extraction eliminate it as a viable option to meet market demands. That leaves us with biosynthesis and organic synthesis. Let’s see how each stacks up.

Biosynthesis - a step up from hemp-based extraction, but…

Biosynthesis is a technology that enables scientists to generate molecules, using genetically modified living cells like algae, bacteria or yeast as chemical production “factories.” Biosynthesis relies on fermentation for finished product production, requiring bioreactors similar to those used in the production of beer and wine. To produce CBD, the metabolism of yeast cells is co-opted to convert sugar into chemicals that are then modified by enzymes. These genetically modified organisms produce CBD during a fermentation cycle, after which the fermentation liquid is processed to harvest the CBD, referred to as the CBD “yield.” (7)

Biosynthesis has two inherent constraints - quantity and quality

  • Required use of living organisms: as nature-derived variables and risk of contamination can never be completely eliminated when organic materials are used, batch-to-batch inconsistencies are inevitable

  • Reliance on fermentation: a process burdened by intensive purification, prolonged batch processing times (a week or more) and high capital investment costs

Organic synthesis - an elegant alternative to biosynthesis

In contrast to biosynthesis, organic synthesis is a lab-based process that uses non-biological agents in the construction of organic compounds without fermentation.

Nalu Bio's organic synthesis platform offers multiple advantages - quantity and quality

  • No use of plant-based or other organic material: which eliminates the biological variability, unwanted contaminants, and high-capital investment costs inherent in complex hemp extraction and biosynthesis

  • A straightforward and scalable lab-based platform: anchored in true, extensively tested chemistry, using affordable, readily available materials to synthesize naturally occurring chemicals that the body “reads” as identical to those from nature

  • Uses off-the-shelf chemicals to create CBD and other cannabinoids: saves time and money, thus giving organic synthesis a demonstrated superiority to biosynthesis and all other known production methods for pharmaceuticals, as well as many small molecule therapeutics like CBD

A look at the metrics tells the story

As you’ll see below, a side-by-side comparison of key metrics makes a compelling argument for organic synthesis as the best choice for producing sufficient high-quality CBD to meet projected demand.

Metrics Comparison – Organic Synthesis vs Biosynthesis

*Currently biosynthesis produces ~1g of CBD per liter of fermentation, this requires a significant purification effort to create a high yield of CBD.

Organic synthesis enables the cost and time-efficient production of consistent formulations of CBD in a scalable way, and in fact, has been identified by investment firm Raymond James as “…the only truly commercial alternative modality for large-scale production of pure cannabinoids…”(8)

At Nalu Bio, our mission is to learn from nature, and deliver through chemistry. Nalu Bio is creating a new category of cannabinoids and cognitive wellness ingredients which will offer great therapeutic promise for the treatment of pain, opioid addiction, and mental health issues. Our proprietary organic synthesis platform utilizes readily available materials and reliable manufacturing technology, eliminating the costly inefficiencies and high capital investment costs of hemp extraction and biosynthesis. We are confident that Nalu Bio's proprietary organic synthesis platform will set a new industry standard for purity, consistency, and quality, because it removes the risk of contamination from pesticides, heavy metals, and THC. Nalu Bio's platform has the ability to keep pace with anticipated market expansion and will reliably deliver high quality and widely accessible cannabinoids to global retail and pharmaceutical markets, now and in the future.

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