BioLab Winter 21/22

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NEWSMAKER An award-winning device may be the answer to the ventilator shortage

VOLUME 36, ISSUE 4 • 2022

LAB PROFILE A unique prairie to pharmacy research program at the Golsteyn Lab, University of Lethbridge




The booming business of pot research

“To your health & happiness” -Jonathan Pilon, Founder, Kingston Cannabis Inc.

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24 newsmaker



Canadian researchers racing to catch up in the face of legalization



Where science and business meet in a burgeoning marijuana market


Two Canadian research teams believe plants may hold the key




Canadian biotech harnesses plants for life-saving medicines page




A unique Alberta laboratory explores potential of prairie plants in the fight against cancer




One scientist’s intrepid quest for molecules that, in the distant future, may offer up new therapeutic drugs


Spinning gold from common mushrooms


Mooove over milk


Health Claims of functional foods



36 38 47

Developing a natural preservative from fungi










Not all foods are considered equal



A simple life-saving answer to the ventilator shortage

Plants are taking on dairy beverages







Christopher J. Forbes


Jana Manolakos


Mitch Brown


Kyle Burak Kieran Delamont Marcia English Jason Field Trevor Kenney David Suzuki Sean Tarry


Charlene Everest


Susan A. Browne


Stephanie Wilson


Crystal Himes


BioLab Business is published 4 times per year by Jesmar Communications Inc., 30 East Beaver Creek Rd., Suite 202, Richmond Hill, Ontario L4B 1J2. 905.886.5040 Fax: 905.886.6615 One year subscription: Canada $35, US $35 and foreign $95. Single copies $9. Please add GST/HST where applicable. BioLab Business subscription and circulation enquiries: Garth Atkinson, Fax: 905.509.0735 Subscriptions to business address only. On occasion, our list is made available to organizations whose products or services may be of interest to you. If you’d rather not receive information, write to us at the address above or call 905.509.3511 The contents of this publication may not be reproduced either in part or in whole without the written consent of the publisher. GST Registration #R124380270.

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ince Canada legalized cannabis, a flurry of research activity has surrounded this mysterious plant and its signature leaves, a psychedelic gold rush that in some cases has overshadowed studies of other vegetation and their medicinal qualities. There are currently 252 drugs considered as basic and essential by the World Health Organization. Of these, 11% are exclusively of plant origin and a large number are synthetic drugs built from natural precursors. For example, 60% of anti-tumour and anti-infectious drugs already on the market, or under clinical trial, are of natural origin. More than 400 traditional plants or plant-derived products are being used worldwide in the management of type 2 diabetes. While capitalizing on the marijuana craze seems to be la mode du jour, we must not forget that Canada’s rich variety of cultures, climates and environments make it ideal to expand our knowledge of other plants and their potential to aid what ails humanity. It’s a call taken up by a small army of scientists in the country – researchers like Roy Golsteyn (page 24), at the University of Lethbridge, who has turned to the Albertan grasslands for a unique plant and extract collection from prairie flora. Guided by global botanical data, Christopher Gray, a member of the Natural Products Research Group at the University of New Brunswick (page 28) is on a relentless, lifelong search for new plant molecules that, in the distant future, may hold the key to innovative therapeutic drugs. Looking for answers in nature, Stephen Withers from the University of British Columbia (page 17) has devoted decades to uncovering a better way for diabetics to take life-saving drugs – and it all stems from a common garden flower. Pierre Haddad from the Quebec Indigenous Health Research Network is working with Indigenous communities to harness the potency of plants in treating diabetes. And as the cannabis market frenzy swirls in economic circles, it also opens the door for scientists to study the plant’s previously uncharacterized effects (page 10). The therapeutic use of plants may be thousands of years old, but today Canadian scientists are working tirelessly to uncover their exciting and rich potential.


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hen it comes to the life sciences industry, COVID-19 has changed everything. Once seen as an industry of the future, jurisdictions around the world are now doubling their efforts to bolster their capacity in biopharmaceutical manufacturing, medical technologies, agri-food and other areas of the bio-economy as part of future pandemic preparedness and economic security measures. So how does Canada measure against this new global competition? Let’s start with the basic ingredient: science. Canada has world-class academic and research institutions that make significant contributions to the global scientific community. For example, the University of Toronto is ranked among the top 20 universities globally, second in publications (only behind Harvard) and third in citations. Aquitas Therapeutics is a Canadian company that developed the lipid nanoparticle delivery system that allows mRNA vaccines, like those from Pfizer and Moderna, to be viable. What’s amazing is that Canada produces such great science while lagging other global jurisdictions in terms of public investments in research. In 2019, Canada’s gross domestic spending on R&D as a percentage of GDP was a mere 1.592%, trailing the OECD average of 2.476%. This places Canada below Slovenia and the Czech Republic, and just ahead of Hungary. If we truly want to “own the podium” in science, we need to up our game in public investments in R&D. Canada is rich in raw materials, whether it’s our natural resources (like minerals, oil and gas) or a national resource like our brain power. But it’s the commercialization (or refinement) of these raw materials into useful products that generates the greatest value and return on investment. And this is where Canada (and many other jurisdictions) really struggles. This is where a multi-faceted coordinated strategy is needed, one that includes initiatives to support access to scaling capital, agile and modern regulatory frameworks and timely reimbursement to facilitate rapid adoption of innovation. Canada has many supports for start-ups through tax credits, funding programs and new venture capital initiatives. However, there remains a significant gap

in terms of larger pools of capital to support scaling companies in life sciences. Aside from Quebec, most Canadian pension funds do not invest significantly in innovative Canadian life sciences companies. The public capital markets, such as the TSX, favour traditional natural resources sectors because of government tax incentives like flow-through shares, incentives which are not available to publicly traded life sciences firms. We need a wider and deeper pool of capital to support growing Canadian companies. Even when products are commercially viable, there are often huge regulatory and reimbursement hurdles to overcome. Health Canada demonstrated amazing agility in responding to COVID-19. Governments and the entire sector must find a way to demonstrate similar agility and responsiveness post-pandemic with other health challenges, like rare diseases. Procurement culture must shift from a “lowest cost” mentality to one of investing in our health and economic prosperity. Antiquated institutions like the federal price regulators that fail to be agile, fail to add value, and continue to create unnecessary barriers must be re-thought and reformed in this new competitive landscape. If done right, this coordinated approach will help encourage Canadian life sciences start-ups to grow and go global, building on key Canadian assets. It’s a virtuous circle, too: developing, launching and exporting more life sciences intellectual property and products will make Canada more competitive in attracting global investments. Canada has a once-ina-century window of opportunity in which we can create a competitive environment for our science to flourish and invite other players from around the world to join us. Game on, Canada!

Jason Field is president and CEO of Life Sciences Ontario. The organization fosters commercial success for Ontario’s life sciences sector through advocacy and education, and promotes the industry locally, nationally, and internationally.




Scientists believe about 90 per cent of land-based plants are involved in this mutually beneficial relationship with fungi.

Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Learn more at

ntil 1969, biologists thought mushrooms and other fungi were plants. They’re actually more closely related to animals, but with enough differences that they inhabit their own distinct classification. This and more recent findings about these mysterious organisms illustrate how much we have yet to learn about the complexities of the natural world. New research reveals mushrooms can even help plants communicate, share nutrients and defend themselves against disease and pests. There’s far more to mushrooms than the stems and caps that poke above ground. Most of the organism is a mass of thin underground threads called mycelia. These filaments form networks that help plants, including trees, connect to each other, through structures called mycorrhizae. Scientists believe about 90 per cent of land-based plants are involved in this mutually beneficial relationship with fungi. Plants deliver food to the mushroom, created by photosynthesis, and the filaments, in turn, assist the plants to absorb water and minerals and to produce chemicals that help them resist disease and other threats. And, of course, a myriad of other life forms benefit from the healthy plants. The structure and function of the mycelial networks and their ability to facilitate communication between physically separated plants led mycologist Paul Stamets to call them “Earth’s natural Internet.” He’s also noted their similarity to brain cell networks. According to a Discover article, “Brains and mycelia grow new connections, or prune existing ones, in response to environmental stimuli. Both use an array of chemical messengers to transmit signals throughout a cellular web.” Research by Suzanne Simard at the University of British Columbia found that Douglas fir and paper birch trees transfer carbon back and forth through the mycelia, and other research shows they can also transfer nitrogen and phosphorus. Simard believes

older, larger trees help younger trees through this process. She found that the smaller trees’ survival often depends on large “mother trees” and that cutting down these tree elders leaves seedlings and smaller trees more vulnerable. Researchers in China found trees attacked by harmful fungi are able to warn other trees through the mycelia networks, and University of Aberdeen biologists found they can also warn other plants of aphid attacks. It all adds to our growing understanding of how interconnected everything on our planet is, and how our actions — such as cutting down large “mother” trees — can have unintended negative consequences that cascade through ecosystems. Scientists are also finding that fungi can be useful to humans beyond providing food and helping us make cheese, bread, beer and wine. Stamets believes mushrooms can be employed to clean up oil spills, defend against weaponized smallpox, break down toxic chemicals like PCBs and decontaminate areas exposed to radiation. He credits his interest in fungi to another fascinating aspect of many mushrooms around the world: their hallucinogenic properties. During college, Stamets spent a lot of time in the Ohio woods, where he first tried psilocybin mushrooms. They had a profound effect on him, and after his first experience, his persistent stutter went away. He later quit a logging job, because the work was destroying mushroom habitat, and began studying fungi at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Since then, his research has led to fascinating discoveries of multiple possible purposes for fungi, including nuclear decontamination, water filtration, biofuels, increasing agricultural yields, pest control and medicines. Research is also shedding light on potential benefits of the psychotropic properties of mushrooms, such as the 144 species that contain psilocybin. Indigenous people have long used hallucinogenic mushrooms for ceremonial, spiritual and psychological purposes — and with good reason, it turns out. Psilocybin has been shown to improve the brain’s connectivity. Researchers are finding the chemical can help combat depression, anxiety, fear and other disorders, and increase creativity and openness to new experience. This makes them potentially beneficial for post-traumatic stress, addiction and palliative care treatments. We humans have made a lot of technological and scientific advances, and this sometimes gives us the sense that we’re above or outside of nature, that we can do things better. Sometimes it takes a fascinating lifeform like a mushroom to shake us from our hubris and show us how much we have yet to learn about the world and our place in it.






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The capacity of coral reefs to provide ecosystem services relied on by millions of people worldwide has declined by half since the 1950s, according to a recent University of British (UBC) Columbia-led study. The study offers the first comprehensive look at what climate change, overfishing, and habitat destruction of coral reefs mean for the ecosystem, or the ability of coral reefs to provide essential benefits and services to humans, including food, livelihoods, and protection from storms. The findings showed that the significant loss in coral reef coverage is the culprit. Other findings are equally bleak. The authors found that global coverage of living corals had declined by about half in the last 70 years and, consequently, the diversity of species also declined by more than 60 per cent. “We know coral reefs are biodiversity hotspots. And preserving biodiversity not only protects nature, but supports the humans that use these species for cultural, subsistence and livelihood means,” said lead author Tyler Eddy, who led the research at the UBC Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries. The researchers also found catches of fishes on coral reefs have steadily declined; the catch per unit effort, often used as an indication of changes in biomass, is now 60 per cent lower than it was in 1950. The findings led the researchers to conclude that continued degradation of the reef in years to come now threatens the wellbeing and sustainable development of human communities that depend on coral reefs. Their loss will be especially felt in parts of the world with few alternative sources of nutrition; coastal Indigenous communities, for instance, consume 15 times more fish than other communities.

Moving to clinical trial for a hallucinogenic alkaloid found in some toadstools Diamond Therapeutics, a drug development company focused on low-dose psychedelic therapies for use in the treatment of mental health, recently received the green light from Health Canada to proceed with a human clinical trial to evaluate psilocybin from toadstools for the treatment of psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depression. Health Canada’s clinical trials database shows only two other Canadian clinical trials involving psilocybin.

PARTNERSHIP AIMS TO BOOST MADEIN-CANADA DRUG PRODUCTION Canadians are left at the mercy of a global supply chain in drug manufacturing which is largely controlled by just two countries. China and India supply 80 per cent of the raw ingredients for producing drugs, according to a 2020 report by the federal Patented Medicine Prices Review Board. That’s why API, an industry-led Edmonton non-profit, is partnering with the University of Alberta’s Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute to create the Canadian Critical Drug Initiative. The partnership will help Canada gain a critical lifeline in the production of small-molecule drugs, which represent the majority of drugs administered in the country.

Nova Mentis Files Fragile X Orphan Drug Designation with European Medicines Agency Canadian-based biotechnology company Nova Mentis, specializing in psilocybin-based therapeutics and complementary diagnostics for neuroinflammatory disorders, has sought orphan drug designation from the European Medicines Agency for its psilocybin drug. The drug has been shown to improve cognition without apparent psychedelic side effects in patients with fragile X syndrome, the leading genetic cause of symptoms in autism spectrum disorder.


ITM Isotope Technologies Munich SE, a leading radiopharmaceutical biotech company, and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) will be collaborating on the development and production of Actinium-225, an extremely rare alpha-emitting radioisotope with heightened potential in precision oncology. Alpha-emitters, particularly Actinium-225, are in high demand for their ability to cause irreparable damage to cancer cells, enabling highly precise treatment of tumour cells, including hardto-target micrometastases, with minimal impact to surrounding healthy tissue. As the current annual global production of Actinium-225 is miniscule, one of the biggest challenges in harnessing the full potential of the alpha-emitter is ensuring its supply. CNL and ITM have the expertise and infrastructure in place to sufficiently bypass the supply hurdle to develop and produce this coveted radioisotope with huge therapeutic potential. Joe McBrearty, CNL’s President and CEO says, “It is also an exciting evolution of CNL’s work in the field of medical radioisotopes, and makes use of our capabilities in target development, radiochemistry, radioisotope analysis and by-product management. Working with ITM, we hope to leverage these capabilities to accelerate the development of this promising new isotope, and to establish a commercial pipeline for what we believe will be a ground-breaking new cancer treatment.” CNL will be responsible for the research and development as well as the production of Actinium-225. The company is already developing and producing Actinium-225 in research-scale quantities using Thorium-229 generators. ITM will be responsible for further processing Actinium-225 to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) standard and will subsequently have the primary responsibility for associated regulatory processes and the marketing and sales of the product. CNL and ITM aim to leverage their capabilities toward establishing a continuous commercial supply of GMPgrade Actinium-225 for the global market.

Scorpion sting might save lives The potential of scorpion venoms to combat the threat of new variants of coronavirus is being explored by scientists from the University of Aberdeen and the University of Suez Canal, Egypt. Scorpion venoms contain a “fascinating cocktail” of biologically active peptides, many of which are very potent neurotoxins, while several have shown strong antibacterial and antiviral activities and are thought to play a role in protecting the venomous gland from microbial infection. These peptides could serve as a good starting point to design novel anti-coronavirus drugs.

LIVING THERAPEUTICS Plenty of probiotic yogurts, pickles and kombuchas claim to boost our digestive health with armies of microbes. However, some scientists have more ambitious therapeutic plans for the “bugs” that colonize us. As part of the new University of California San Francisco Living Therapeutics Initiative, they hope to leverage these microbes as living therapeutics for a range of health conditions, including ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, eczema and asthma.

Machine Learning platform mines nature for drug development Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have developed a new process that could reinvigorate the search for natural product drugs to treat cancers, viral infections and other ailments. They matched machinelearning algorithms to the signals of a microbe’s metabolites with its genomic signals to identify will be more likely to correspond to a natural product-information that will help identify a natural product candidate for possible drug development.





Nature’s Pharmacy:

Ongoing research unlocking and changing


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he cannabis plant, even today, offers us a pathway into a world of mysteries and questions. Thousands of years of both formal and informal human use, much of it set against a backdrop of prohibition, has caused the plant to evolve from a naturally occurring landrace shrub in central Asia to what it has become today: an infinitely variable commodity plant with thousands upon thousands of strains, derivative products and names. With neither official sanction nor support, we have learned to breed it, smoke it, cook it and turn it into valuable textiles. We have changed cannabis, and cannabis has changed us; can you think of any other plant that has created a global community and culture like this, not to mention the emerging multi-billion dollar medical and commercial industries? But because it has been illegal for so long, cannabis

science is still catching up. In Canada, legalization has helped with that, and interested academics can now find research support from large cannabis companies like Aurora or Canopy Growth. Cannabis science is alive in Canada, in many ways and in many places. It is in the labs, where biologists continue to unlock its medical potential and where pharmaceutical companies work to bring it to patients. It is in the nurseries, where breeders and geneticists try to understand how we can improve its yield and chemical properties. It is in the universities, where public health and social science researchers measure its uses in the fight against vexing social issues like mental illness, addiction and crime. And it is, of course, in the hands of the licensed producers, who still see the potential for a thriving, profitable pot economy.





On October 17, 2019 — one year to the day after Canada legalized cannabis — McGill University in Montreal officially opened the McGill Research Centre for Cannabis (MRCC). It wasn’t the first time a university had signalled an interest in cannabis, but it was probably the most substantive: a research initiative that spanned six faculties (medicine, agricultural and environmental sciences, law, education, science and management) and the McGill University Health Centre hospital research institute. It was a tacit admission that, as the country barrelled headfirst into legalization, scholars had some catching up to do. “There is so much information, on all fronts, that we lack,” the Centre’s director Carolyn Baglole told an alumni magazine at the time. “We want to let the data and the science unfold, learning what that story is telling us.” Today, the research work that goes on at the MRCC is centred around three main areas: agriculture and plant science, biomedical, and socioeconomics and the law. While the pandemic slowed much of its early work, the Centre has since regained some momentum and it has started to focus on CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid that has shown the most medical potential. In October 2020, it announced the creation of the CBD Research Partnership Fund a

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partnership with the Association québécoise de l’industrie du cannabis (AQIC) which wants to support a single promising research project in CBD. (As of writing, no recipient of this funding has been announced). “There is still much we don’t know about cannabis,” writes Baglole. “From the plant itself, to the full secondary metabolite profile, the spectrum of potential medical applications.” Meanwhile, across the country at the University of British Columbia, a different research project is underway to map cannabis resistance genes and, eventually, develop cannabis cultivars with a genetic resistance to powdery mildew, a common problem for cannabis growers. “Our main goal is to develop a genomics breeding platform,” says Loren Rieseberg, a botanist with a reputation for his research into sunflowers. Traditionally, if a cannabis breeder wanted to breed for a specific trait, it would mean growing plants to maturity and crossing them. With other

" There is still much we don’t know about cannabis. From the plant itself, to the full secondary metabolite profile, the spectrum of potential medical applications."

Not all research is unlocking new information about cannabis — sometimes it is about unlearning what we thought we knew.

crops, he explains, “you could grow 10,000 corn plants and phenotype them, measure them for everything you want to measure, and simply select the top five per cent.” To do that with cannabis would require an immense amount of space, time and labour. What a genomics breeding platform would mean for cannabis breeders, however, is that “you only have to grow things up to a seedling stage, genotype them, choose the ones you want and discard the rest. It just saves space and time, and it also makes your breeding a lot more accurate, because you know exactly what you’re doing.” While researchers like Rieseberg probe the chemical properties, others are focused on ways to harness those chemicals and use them to help people. At the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., research is focusing on cannabis’ potential to treat patients suffering from chronic pain, as well as those living with addictions and mental health challenges. One ongoing study out of McMaster’s cannabis research department that has attracted interest is Michael Van Ameringen’s research into its role in treating anxiety disorders research being directed out of the MacAnxiety Centre, a specialized psychiatric research centre. “The purpose of this study is to compare the effects of two different cannabidiol (CBD) formulations (CBD or CBD+THC) versus placebo (containing no medication), in adults with an anxiety disorder,” said a spokesperson for the study. (An interview on this study, citing research). McMaster’s DeGroote Centre is also home to a number of studies related to non-cancer chronic pain, which has become the most common reason for seeking medicinal cannabis in many jurisdictions. Ongoing research projects include studies involving the use of cannabis to treat pain following a knee replacement and following orthopaedic surgery, as well as the creation of DATACANN, a database that is collecting real-world data from patients prescribed cannabis for non-cancer chronic pain, to “inform efforts to standardize cannabis-related medical education, monitor trends in clinical outcomes, and determine how to effectively predict the benefits and harms of cannabis use within a prescribed treatment regimen.” However, not all research is unlocking new information about cannabis — sometimes it is about unlearning what we thought we knew. At Dalhousie University, Sean Myles, an associate professor in the Faculty of Agriculture, has recently published research casting doubt on one of cannabis’ longest-held conventions: the classification of strains as either sativa, indica or a hybrid. Conventionally, growers (and, recently, retailers) have tightly held to a vernacular understanding that the plant’s psychoactive effects are broadly dictated






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by their sativa/indica lineage; a sativa produces a more creative, energetic high, while an indica produces a more mellow high. But when you scratch the genetic surface, Myles says, it’s not so simple. “It’s frequently the case that something that’s labeled as a sativa is more closely related to something that’s labeled indica than it is to other sativas,” he says. “There’s a weak signal in the data, but by no means would anyone say that these labels that are applied to samples represent any meaningful identity, chemically or genetically, of the plants.” Instead, it’s about the terpenes — essential oils contained within the trichomes of the dried flower — that are likely most determinative of the plant’s character. A large wealth of informal knowledge had built up under prohibition, and not all of it has ever been tested rigorously. Some of the findings, like the broad substantiation of CBD’s medical properties, have borne out what medicinal cannabis advocates had been saying all along. Others, like Myles’ findings about cultivar labelling, have forced certain reconsiderations. But what is unique about cannabis research at this moment, and what cannot be ignored, is that it is happening within the context of a society that is eager to understand cannabis. Myles’ research, to use one example, comes in the context of a terpene revolution of its own. Growers, consumers and retailers have, in the last few years, picked up on the idea that terpenes, along with cannabinoids, play a huge role in the plant’s psychoactive effects. Some within the industry are running with it as a marketing device. It is not uncommon to see cannabis brands highlighting their terpenes (usually in the form of a total percentage by weight, or as a list of major terpenes in the flower) and downplaying the sativa/indica classification. As they do that, new cannabis paradigms emerge. Sativa/indica, for instance, is increasingly understood as an anachronism. “It’s sort of unclear,” Myles says, “the degree to which those classifications were valid in the first place.” It would be impossible to capture all the ongoing research into cannabis chemical and medicinal properties in one article. There are now college programs designed to train the next generation of master breeders: research at the University of Lethbridge into cannabis’ effects on COVID-19, or research at the University of Victoria on the effects of cannabis on pregnancy. The list goes on, and as more universities acquire cannabis research licenses, that research world will continue to grow. “The cannabis research community has really opened up,” says Rieseberg. While it is still not the easiest research to get cleared, as Health Canada strictly regulates the industry, legalization has opened many academics up to it. “I think as it becomes legalized, and more researchers become used to having a very open environment, we’ll learn a lot more about what’s happening … There’s a lot to learn about cannabis.”



ngoing research into cannabis in the public sector, coupled with both the emergence of large cannabis corporations and a newfound interest in the power of cannabinoids within the pharmaceuticals sector, is increasingly translating into exciting research that aims to close the gap between the many anecdotal uses for medical cannabis and what the science shows. And plenty are interested in getting onboard with this, from dedicated pharmaceutical companies working with cannabinoid-based compounds to recreational cannabis companies hoping to produce heartier crops and grow plants with specialized adaptations.

Tetra Bio-Pharma

On the pharmaceutical end of the spectrum lies Ottawa’s Tetra Bio-Pharma, a TSXlisted pharmaceutical research outfit with a number of ongoing clinical trials. Their flagship trial, branded REBORN, is in Phase 2, studying the efficacy of using cannabinoids to treat breakthrough pain in patients with advanced cancer. Because of its proximity to the pharmaceutical industry, it might be no surprise that Tetra straddles the world of cannabis and synthetics. In October, it announced plans to launch REDUVO in Canada ­­– a synthetic form of THC known as dronabinol, or possibly better known by its US trade name, Marinol.


Spectrum Therapeutics & Canopy Growth

In late 2018, the cannabis producer Canopy Growth announced that Michael John Milloy would be named the inaugural Canopy Growth Professor in Cannabis Science at the University of British Columbia (UBC). It wasn’t the first partnership between academia and a private sector cannabis company, but it was among the most visible: a high-profile research position sponsored by one of the country’s largest cannabis companies, a statement that the cannabis industry wanted to have a seat at the research table. Spectrum Therapeutics, the medical cannabis subsidiary of Canopy Growth, has focused much of its research attention, like Tetra Bio-Pharma, on developing cannabis as a replacement for opioids. Milloy came to the position as a research scientist within the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) “The therapeutic benefits of cannabis are only just beginning to be understood,” said Milloy in late 2018. “Early research has shown that it could have a stabilizing impact for people with opioid use disorder, improving their quality of life and offering a pathway to long-

term treatment solutions. In the midst of an overdose crisis, we have a scientific imperative to build upon this research.” Unlike Tetra, Spectrum doesn’t yet find itself in the same clinical trial game, content to operate within the medical cannabis space. Their research has focused on more practical applications with direct links to the ongoing overdose crisis. A recent paper, published in November 2020, focused on titration methods to successfully transition people from opioid-based painkillers to cannabis. A slightly earlier study also found that daily cannabis users were 24 per cent more likely to kick an intravenous drug dependency, and that using cannabis at this rate also made one less likely to start injecting to begin with. “Cannabis can help us save lives, particularly among the people shouldering the burden of the overdose crisis,” Milloy told The Tyee in 2020.

Aurora Cannabis

Aurora Cannabis, one of Canada’s first and largest cannabis producers, has identified the development of new genetics as being key to its growth and its pivot towards being a more medically-focused cannabis company amidst continued losses in the recreational market. In May 2021, the company launched a dedicated Science & Innovation group with hopes of commercializing “key aspects of cannabinoid biosynthesis in plants and microorganisms.” “This is a long-term effort, but one that we believe will ultimately allow companies to bring a wide array of newgeneration products to the market,” said their new CEO, Miguel Martin, on a September 2021 earnings call. In August and September 2021, the first three cultivars created at Aurora Coast, the company’s research and development facility in Comox, B.C., were released. “We’re already seeing the results, through nearly $1 million in sales since their launch,” said Martin. “The genetics and breeding program, which is an asset-light business model, is always expected to generate high-margin revenue.” To that end, one of the projects they are supporting is the aforementioned research of Loren Rieseberg at UBC. The intended by-product of Riseberg’s work — undertaken with Marco Todesco at UBC, with Greg Baute and Charles Pick of Aurora Cannabis and Pascal Spothelfer of Genome BC — on cannabis genetics is to breed a strain of cannabis that can resist the powdery mildew, a dangerous nuisance for cannabis growers. According to the company, the improved cannabis cultivars will “result in reduced losses to pathogen contamination and increase product quality.”


The key insight that CEO Guy Chamberland, who is also a master herbalist, believes he and his company have found is that cannabis in its natural form has always been inhaled, and that every attempt to circumvent this with a non-smokable form has ultimately struggled to be as effective. Consumed any other way — eaten, swallowed, injected — cannabis tends not to work quite the same way. But inhalation (or vaporization), as anyone who has smoked it knows, is capable of delivering the relief quickly — so quickly, in fact, that Chamberland believes that the Phase 2 trial of their flagship cancer pain drug QIXLEEF “can provide pain relief faster than an immediate-release oral morphine.” “The research we’ve been doing is mainly developing what they call a dried flower cannabis product as a prescription drug,” Chamberland says. “One of the things I’ve learned over the years is do not step away from the traditional use of the plant when you’re using it to treat somebody. “When you see that type of evidence, you start to understand why smoked cannabis has always been preferred by patients.” The QIXLEEF Phase 2 clinical trial, which focuses on breakthrough pain in cancer patients, is considered the company’s priority study, and began in May 2021. It is hoping to show positive effects in the treatment of breakthrough cancer pain.






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hile medicines have been extracted from plants for centuries, plants and plant cell systems today can be genetically engineered to serve as drug-producing factories for a range of antibodies and other protein-based therapeutics and vaccines. At the forefront stands Canadian biopharmaceutical company PlantForm, which is harnessing plants for costeffective therapeutic drugs for cancer and other lifethreatening conditions — including a potential treatment for coronaviruses like COVID-19. PlantForm develops and produces antibody and protein drugs in tobacco plants using a unique manufacturing platform, trademarked vivoXPRESS. The proprietary system is based on work that began at the University of Guelph in the 1990s, when Canadian plant scientist Christopher Hall recognized the advantages of using transgenic tobacco plants to produce antibody drugs. Tobacco plants were appealing due to their well understood genetics and because they aren’t used as food crops.


The technology is capable of reducing the production costs of biopharmaceuticals up to 90%, compared to drugs produced in mammalian cell systems - Don Stewart, PlantForm President and CEO.

Biosimilar Pipeline

PlantForm’s drug development pipeline includes biosimilar versions of name brand drugs that are coming off patent. (Biosimilar drugs are akin to generic drugs; however, they are “similar” rather than exact copies). Earlier this year, the company finalized a joint-venture agreement with the Health Ministry of Brazil for a biosimilar version of pembrolizumab (brand name Keytruda). Widely used in immunotherapy to treat cancers like melanoma, lung cancer, head and neck cancer, and stomach cancer, sales of Keytruda are expected to reach $22.5 billion by 2024. PlantForm is also working to develop a biosimilar version of ranibizumab

(brand name Lucentis) for age-related macular degeneration, and its subsidiary AntoXa Corporation is developing an innovative therapeutic drug as a potential treatment for coronavirus infections, including COVID-19, through a contract with Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC). PlantForm established AntoXa to develop drug products to protect military and civilian personnel from biological and chemical agents that might be used in terrorist attacks, as well as outbreaks of naturally occurring infectious diseases.

Animal health pipeline

In October 2021, the company signed a commercialization agreement with partners in South Korea to bring the world’s first plant-derived vaccine against Classical Swine Fever to North American and key Latin American markets. Meanwhile, with funding from the Ontario Agri-Food Research Initiative, PlantForm is working with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Western University on an edible antibody therapeutic that prevents E. coli 0157 infection in pigs. The company also received funding from Canada’s AgriScience Program to work on an economical and effective vaccine for the prevention of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus infection in piglets.


The technology is capable of reducing the production costs of biopharmaceuticals up to 90%, compared to drugs produced in mammalian cell systems, said Don Stewart, PlantForm President and CEO. It also delivers high expression rates (the amount of a target molecule each plant can provide) while reducing the risk of any unwanted immune system reactions. ”We can go from tobacco seed to finished product in as little as six weeks, plus we have the ability to efficiently manufacture products that prove problematic in other manufacturing systems,” he said.




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With diabetes on the rise, meet two Canadian research teams

Looking for answers in nature T

here’s no sugarcoating it. Diabetes is growing at an alarming rate in Canada, afflicting one in three Canadians. It’s particularly worrisome for Canada's First Nations and Inuit populations, where rates of diabetes on some reserves are three to five times higher than the general population. In the face of this threat, two leading Canadian scientists and their teams believe that plants may hold some answers to managing the disease. At the University of British Columbia, Stephen Withers, Director, Centre for High-Throughput Biology and Canada Research Chair in Chemical Biology, and his colleagues have devoted decades to uncovering a better way for diabetics to take life-saving drugs – and it all stems from a common garden flower. A compound they discovered in the root bulbs of a plant known as Crocosmia ,or Monbretia, holds promise in alleviating bowel discomfort that arises when taking

drugs to control blood glucose levels. One class of drug commonly used with diabetics prevents or slows down gut enzymes like alpha-glucosidase from moving glucose into the bloodstream. As a result, other enzymes like undigested oligosaccharides pass further down the gut where they provide “fast food” for gut bacteria. “These gut bacteria produce a lot of gas as a side product… so the patient tends to suffer from diarrhea and flatulence. As a consequence, they do not tend to take the drug,” explains Withers. The team proposed that if they could develop selective inhibitors of the alpha amylase instead, it would prevent the starch from being digested. They expected it would greatly decrease the amount of glucose hitting the bloodstream and would not generate the “fast food” oligosaccharides that cause problems. In this way, they could have a drug that controls blood sugar but without the unpleasant side effects.





Stephen Withers, Director, Centre for High-Throughput Biology and Canada Research Chair in Chemical Biology, and his colleagues have devoted decades to uncovering a better way for diabetics to take life-saving drugs – and it all stems from a common garden flower.

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They spent almost 20 years working on understanding the enzyme and designing and synthesizing molecules as inhibitors. But none were practical. “We then looked for alpha amylase inhibitors in nature and after screening 30,000 extracts of plants came up with the compound Montbretin A (MbA), which has exactly the properties we want. This compound comes from the corms (root bulbs) of a beautiful garden flower known as Crocosmia or Monbretia,” says Withers. Robots were key in helping sift through thousands of extracts. The main challenges lay in identifying exactly how the plant makes this compound and developing a cost-effective purification strategy to draw out large quantities of it. Large-scale purification equipment was used to obtain the quantities needed for animal studies. X-ray equipment and computers were also used to understand how MbA inhibits the alpha amylase. Withers explains, “We now have a reasonable protocol, but it is still not clear that we can grow and purify at a low enough cost to be economic.” The team engaged Jorge Bohlmann from UBC’s Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences and his postdoctoral fellow, Sandra Irmisch, in this process on lifting the genes responsible into an organism, such as yeast, in order to create a factory for production of MbA by fermentation. “We now know that the compound is safe and effective in rats, and on the basis of our data we have obtained permission to perform a clinical trial in humans to test its safety.” The team is confident that they will be moving to a Phase 1 trial given the rat data and the similarity of the molecule to others in the human diet. “That trial was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we hope to be able to start this soon,” adds Withers.

The work was funded for many years by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), with basic research funding and then a “Proof of Principle” commercialisation grant. More recently, the national research network GlycoNet funded work in both Bohlmann’s and Withers’ labs, as well as funding the animal studies and contributing funds towards the human clinical trial. But taking it further to commercialization will require substantial investment, concludes Withers.



In a vast area of sub-Arctic boreal forest, the 30,000 Cree of Eeyou Istchee, located in northern Quebec and along the eastern shores of James Bay, experienced a troublesome rise in diabetes over the last few decades. It’s a statistic reflected in many of Canada’s Indigenous populations. It’s also an area of interest for Pierre Haddad, Executive Director of the Quebec Indigenous Health Research Network, and founder and president of Phytothera, a natural health products consultancy. The Network, which launched earlier this year, provides an important space for Indigenous communities, researchers and knowledge users to work together on health promotion and community-based participatory research and training. Haddad, who recently retired from his post as professor of Pharmacology at the University of Montreal, is a leading expert on medicinal plants, functional foods and traditional medicinal plants for the treatment of diabetes. In collaboration with teams from the universities of Montréal, Ottawa and McGill, he has co-led several studies investigating ways to integrate traditional medicine with modern science to improve the health of the Cree of northern Quebec. The majority of these studies received financial support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, mostly through its Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health. Haddad explains, “It is important to explore ways of dealing with diabetes that are in harmony with aboriginal peoples' culture and lifestyle. Medicinal plants have been around for a long time and used for a variety of ailments and conditions. They are a wealth to be recognized and valued.” The research team, including experts from McGill University, University of Ottawa, Uschiniichisuu Myupimaatisiiun, Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay and the Montreal Botanical Garden, relied on ethnobotany to characterize plants with the highest antidiabetic potential, and relate these to Indigenous traditional medicine and treatments. They worked closely with a large portion of the Cree communities of Eeyou Istchee, a territory that covers over 300,000 km2. For the project, plants were screened for glucose-lowering properties, toxicity, drug interactions and complexity, through a series of in vitro cell-based and cell-free bioassays to isolate pure active compounds. Species that showed promising biological activities were studied in greater detail to understand their cellular and molecular activities, identify their active



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phytochemical principles, and determine their safety and efficacy through in vivo animal studies (Tier 2). The most active plant species were tested in Tier 3 clinical studies with Cree diabetics taking traditional medicine alongside conventional drug therapy. Concurrently, the Cree Elders and healers identified traditional medicinal plants the community used in treating diabetes. The results revealed that over 60 per cent of the plants showed significant antidiabetic potential and were the same as those prioritized by the Cree Elders and healers. “It honoured not only the great wisdom and knowledge of Indigenous healers, but also showed the value of cross-cultural collaboration in health research,” notes Haddad. All aspects of the research program were community-based such that Elders and other community representatives were directly consulted and involved at every level. “A major focus was thus placed on reciprocal knowledge translation,” explains Haddad. Finally, networking with other aboriginal initiatives across Canada and training of young Cree in traditional medicine was an important component of the project. However, the researchers found themselves short on time and resources. “The success of this research depended heavily on the relationships between researchers and participating Indigenous communities,” explains Haddad. To gain successful results, it was vital to earn the trust of communities involved. “Anxieties from the Cree communities typically concerned ownership and misuse of traditional knowledge alongside fears that the publication of results would lead to the over-exploitation of plant resources and potential misuse of the medicines,” he adds. A legally binding research agreement protected the collected traditional knowledge. The consent of Elders was obtained at all stages of the project and a protocol was set for the pre-publication review of documents by Cree Elders. “The hope is that these documents can serve as an adaptable template for future research.”


Watercolor Meadow Ba


The Cree, along with other Indigenous groups, have had success using medicinal plants to treat illnesses and diseases for centuries, according to Health Canada. The aboriginal peoples of Eastern Canada alone have recorded 400 species of medicinal plants with over 2,000 uses listed, many including diabetes-related conditions. Purple Pitcher Plant

Stimulates glucose transport in muscle cells and protects against diabetic neuropathy


Treats several ailments including cuts, burns, coughs, stomach pain, sores (mouth, skin and throat), heart problems and frostbite


Treats skin conditions and diabetic sores, as well as coughs, sore throat, mouth sores and sore eyes, and works as a laxative


Works as a purgative; used in the treatment of boils and abscesses, rashes, snow blindness, nosebleeds and sores, high blood pressure, child asthma, eczema and psoriasis, heart problems, teething toothache and diabetes

Lowbush blueberry, American cranberry and European bilberry

Treatment of diabetes

Expand Your Network & Grow Your Business JOIN THE CLSA


We are an organization that serves our membership by providing services that can grow your business. • Quarterly Macro/Micro reports providing detailed information of the Canadian environment business. • Salary Surveys that are specific to our industry and data that is 100% Canadian. • Workshops that address subjects or issues that are common to all of us and affect our business.

The Canadian Laboratory Suppliers Association is a group of scientific companies committed to promoting and serving the Canadian laboratory marketplace. The CLSA provides a non-competitive environment for executives of Canada’s leading scientific suppliers to share ideas and concepts. The objective of the CLSA is to provide market analysis on the scientific industry, and to understand and discuss issues that influence the Canadian laboratory scientific market. These issues include: how government policies affect the scientific industry, how and why the industry is changing in Canada (changing economic climate) and market trends.


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A lifesaving, simple solution to the ventilator shortage



n the face of a critical shortage of ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic, a team of physicians and engineers from the University of Calgary have developed an award-winning device that safely increases available machines at a low cost. The Valence InVent Xtend allows a single ventilator to provide air for up to four patients, with the capability of personalized and realtime modifications. Its adjustable valve enclosure and ventilator multiplexor allows multiple patients with different ventilation needs to share one machine. It recently received official Health Canada licensing under the COVID-19 Interim Order.


This has been a really exciting project to be involved with because it bridges the gaps between the engineering and medicine. And we're using engineering techniques to really solve an important clinical problem,

The device was invented by Steven Roy, a critical care medicine fellow at the University of Calgary and founder of Convergence Medical Sciences, a tech start-up which is now manufacturing the device. “There was a ventilator shortage or concerns about ventilator shortages. The U.S. actually had hundreds of ventilators that it couldn't use because they were in storage and had not been maintained,” noted Roy. The device is a medical device that allows a ventilator's circuit to be split between multiple patients. This allows patients to be ventilated with a single ventilator for two to four patients. Roy points out that the device doesn't require any maintenance, and it can expand the ventilator capacity that's available very quickly and for a much lower cost than purchasing more ventilators. The device costs about $50 per patient, as compared to the $70,000 price of a ventilator. “What struck me most about this project was how there was an immediate need that was identified and how quickly we were able to form a group to collaborate and to come up with a solution to this problem,” notes his colleague Paul McBeth, an intensive care doctor.. Roy began working on prototypes of a split ventilator in his garage after ventilator shortages were first reported during the COVID-19 pandemic. “There were times when I would be on call overnight and working a 24-hour shift, then go home and have a nap, then go work on this device,” Roy says. He was looking for someone to study the system with him and to characterize how the system works from a physics and an engineering point of view. Roy fit the bill as a former mechanical engineer and an expert in surgical robotics. “This has been a really exciting project to be involved with because it bridges the gaps between the engineering and medicine. And we're using engineering techniques to really solve an important clinical problem, which

is around ventilation,” recalls McBeth. He also enlisted the help of University of Calgary engineer Dr. Jihyun Lee. Lee explains, “Our role is to monitor the air dynamic of the system. For example, all the patients have a different lung compliance, how their air dynamics goes in, and then how their lungs behave and they react from the ventilator. So we implemented a pressure sensor to detect pressure changes and flow rate in real time.” To help close dangerous gaps in the provision of ventilators, Roy wanted to build something that required little to no maintenance and was cost-effective, so he teamed up with Exergy Solutions to create a functional 3D-printed model. “So the device has now licensed by Health Canada under the COVID-19 Interim Order,” Roy said. “And that allows it to be used with patients in Canada, in the setting of a critical ventilator shortage.” Convergence Medical Sciences, along with Exergy Solutions, was recognized with an International Red Dot Design Award in June. More recently, they received a bronze International Design Excellence Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America.


which is around ventilation

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PRAIRIES TO PHARMACY A unique plant library and research laboratory at the University of Lethbridge explore the potency of extracts that show promise in fending off cancer cells





outhern Alberta’s vast prairies can often harsh be and unforgiving. Windswept and prone to temperature extremes of 35 C during baked dry summer months and -35 C in the bonechilling winter, its landscape is still surprisingly rich in flora, producing an array of hearty plants that are just now being recognized for their unique properties of medical importance. Dr. Roy Golsteyn, whose laboratory is in the $280-million Science Commons building at the University of Lethbridge, has been investigating the medicinal properties of the prairie plants that dot this unique setting for nearly a decade. It is slow, methodical work for the biological sciences professor and researcher, but the potential he and his team see is limitless. “People think of Canada as cold and ice and snow and they don’t look at Canada as they do the tropical regions where historically a lot of this type of work has been done,” says Golsteyn, who heads a small but robust eight-person lab. “This area has escaped notice, but we’re changing that.” Golsteyn’s Prairie to Pharmacy research program began taking shape in the summer of 2013 when he and Dr. Sophie Kernéis (now at Lethbridge College) started to create the plant and extract collection. Golsteyn, who previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry, was keen to explore the chemical compounds from the region’s prairie plants. He recognized that many of the plants in southern Alberta were actually quite toxic — a necessity for their survival in a difficult climate with a short growing season and multiple grazers (deer, antelope, buffalo, cattle) University of Lethbridge, seeking nourishment. Getting people to take notice of this, however, was a has been investigating slow process, and one that required extra effort at each the medicinal properties step. While convinced he had at his disposal a number of the prairie plants that of extracts that showed great promise in their ability to inhibit cell growth — specifically cancer cells — the fact dot this unique setting that nobody had previously studied these plants acted as for nearly a decade. It is an obstacle. He could not build off of previous work; rather, he and his group had to lay the groundwork themselves. It slow, methodical work for meant running tests, writing papers, securing funding and the biological sciences gaining acknowledgment from peers, donors and research professor and researcher, partners that this was a viable path of study. “It has taken more time than I anticipated, but we have but the potential he and his moved forward, and this year has been a big year because team see is limitless. we’ve had five publications on four different Canadian plants in peer-reviewed journals,” says Golsteyn. “It’s a first for almost all of these plants and now we’re sharing this with the scientific world, all the tremendous chemicals and the activities of these plants from right here in our area.” Golsteyn’s lab itself is an impressive representation of the scope and focus of Science Commons. Described as a building that puts science on display, Science Commons presents the Prairie to Pharmacy program to anyone walking the corridors of the ninth floor. Its allglass frontage allows inquisitive passersby to watch Golsteyn and his teammates conduct work on their plants, with many cultivars dotting the various lab benches. The open laboratory concept permits better use of specialized equipment such as fluorescence microscopes, high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) and automated cell imagers such as the Cytation 5. In all, he and his team have access to more than 1,200 sq.ft. of lab space, including the plant library itself, which measures 122 sq.ft. 27


“ We have one of the few prairie plant libraries around, and it now contains 148 different species with over 500 extracts. Many of these species are very difficult to find elsewhere in the world..."

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“We have one of the few prairie plant libraries around, and it now contains 148 different species with over 500 extracts,” says Golsteyn. “Many of these species are very difficult to find elsewhere in the world, and lately we’ve been able to start distributing them to other universities and institutes. We’ve recently sent extracts to the University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, an institute in Belgium that studies malaria, and another institute in Switzerland.” One of the first plants to interest Golsteyn and his research group was Thermopsis rhombifolia (buffalo bean). Virtually from the outset, it displayed potential anti-cancer activity by inhibiting an enzyme essential for cell mitosis, or the growth of cancer cells. In their recent

paper published in the Journal of Natural Health Products Research, Golsteyn’s group says, “It is noteworthy that natural products are the major source of modern medicines, and that these chemicals are invaluable tools with which to investigate cellular pathways.” The group’s work reveals that the isolation of the natural product luteolin from the buffalo bean was able to inhibit the enzyme Cdk9 (cyclin dependent kinase) and its role in cell mitosis. Further, it arrested cells in the G1 phase of the cell cycle, thereby not allowing cancer cells to replicate. Although luteolin is from a class of chemicals that are unlikely to become a medicine, it has excellent properties as a safe and inexpensive reagent to study how cancer cells divide. Golsteyn’s group has been directing much of its efforts on a plant showing great promise: Gaillardia aristata (Asteraceae). In collaboration with Dr. Raymond Andersen’s team from the University of British Columbia, they discovered pulchelloid A, a natural product present in Gaillardia aristata that arrests human cancer cells in mitosis. Cells enter a prolonged mitotic arrest in which the spindles become multi-polar and the chromosomes acquire gamma histone H2Ax, a hallmark of damaged DNA. The novel mechanism of action has led to new studies ranging from harvesting related plants to transcriptomics, metabolomics and confocal microscopy, both at the U of L and with collaborators in Canada and Europe. If real estate is all about location, location, location, Golsteyn’s lab is living proof of that concept. Science Commons and the U of L are nestled in the coulees of the Oldman River valley, allowing Golsteyn and his team to literally walk out the door and harvest cultivars. Some of their most recent work has taken them just an hour or so away, to the foothills of the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. In fact, more than half of all plant species in the entire province of Alberta lie within a 90-minute drive from the university’s front doors. Some days, his group simply scours the area for interesting plant species, while other days see tips coming in from area farmers and ranchers. The university's longstanding relationship with local Indigenous leaders, particularly the Blackfoot people, has led to unique approaches to studying plants from this region. All plant collections are undertaken sustainably and with permits in order to protect this valuable and fragile ecosystem. “The university had a very positive relationship with the First Nations communities long before we started our project,” says Golsteyn, who describes his research program as taking two parallel approaches. “There’s the classical Western scientific approach I’m trained in and that’s done all over the world where we’ll take a plant and look at it with a scientific view,” he says, noting all plant collections include a tobacco offering at the time of harvest. “At the same time, we will approach things using traditional First Nations knowledge, but we only do that if a member of the First Nations community is in the lab and can undertake the additional responsibility. Fortunately for us, we draw some excellent First Nations students who are excited and connected to the work and can share traditional knowledge with our group.” While it took some time to cultivate support from funding agencies, once the work began it quickly garnered attention. Now supported by major granting agencies such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Prairie to Pharmacy program has been supported generously by private donors as well possibly, Golsteyn says, because it resonates with them. “Unlike some of the other projects I’ve worked on, people connect more easily to the science of natural products,” he says, noting his role is to fundamentally

identify and preliminarily test compounds before teaming with pharmaceutical companies to pursue drug development. “It’s pretty hardcore science, but fortunately people are interested in it, and they share our vision, they’re able to make the connection between our prairies, the plants and the medicines.” It’s why Golsteyn regularly receives tips from area landowners about plants on their properties whenever his lab makes the news. They’ll see a plant on their land that animals will not go near and understand it might have some chemical properties that deserve to be studied. It’s also why students are eager to be a part of his lab and engage in the work. “We’ve had some students who have been with us throughout their entire time here at the U of L,” says Golsteyn. “They usually go on to either study medicine, because there has been a renewed interest in natural products in medicine, or find their way into biotech companies. I see my laboratory and our university as a launchpad for students seeking exciting scientific opportunities in natural products.” Golsteyn recognizes that despite a decade of work, he and his group are only just beginning to understand what properties many of these plants possess. With guidance from First Nations knowledge keepers, global collaborators, an ideal location and a new, state-ofthe-art lab, they are excited to see what future discoveries await in natural products.






exploring chemical structures in natural products BIOLAB BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 4 • 2 0 2 2




esolute is one way to describe Christopher Gray. A member of the Natural Products Research Group and Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), Gray is on a relentless, lifelong search for new molecules, that in the distant future, might hold the key to new therapeutic drugs. He’s searching for a needle in a haystack, a quest that began in 1995 during his graduate studies. “I'm a natural products chemist. I just want to find new natural products with interesting chemical structures,” he said. His current research is focused on the isolation and identification of biologically active organic compounds from plants, algae and microorganisms. All living organisms contain a huge number of organic molecules or primary metabolites, most of which are essential for life. Another group of molecules, while not essential for life, give the

organism some benefits if it produces them. Gray is focused on these secondary metabolites, which are structurally complex and may harbour biological activities for new therapeutics. “The question comes down to where are you going to find your new natural products? That really relates to looking at biological diversity that hasn't been investigated heavily,” he explains. The Natural Product Research Group’s search is guided by global ethnobotanical data – plants that have documented uses as traditional remedies and therapeutics form the foundation of their research. However, Gray is not only interested in the medicinal plants as a source of new molecules; he’s also interested in the many fungi that inhabit their tissues. These fungi, or endophytes, may never have been found or investigated before. He cautions that the molecules he discovers will likely not have any bearing on new drugs in the





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future. “The problem is that to get one natural product to market as a drug, you have to discover thousands and thousands of natural products,” he explains. He holds that the likelihood of isolating a molecule that may lead to a therapeutic agent is extremely low. “But the bottom line is if we don't try, we're going to continue with the problem that we're facing today with antibiotics where a few decades ago, they decided to stop looking for new ones. Fast forward to today, and we have hardly any antibiotics that are really very useful.” In a recent published study, his group isolated molecules that kill Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Staphylococcus aureus in laboratory-based assays. “They will probably also kill a whole bunch of other things, quite possibly humans. And that's where we have to be careful. Not one of those molecules is anywhere close to going into drug development.” It begins with finding the right plants to study, plants that have a documented history of being used medicinally. “But it's not a trivial thing to traipse off into the woods and find a specific species of plant. That's kind of challenging, made more so by the fact that there are less and less botanists in the world because apparently botany is no longer a science that people need to study,” he adds wryly. Isolating the fungi from these plants is also not easy, requiring the right laboratory conditions to grow. The sample is then fermented and natural products, often numbering in the thousands, are extracted. Out of these, the researchers may be interested in only one. “So now you've got quite a challenge in purifying that down to the point that you've got a single pure compound,” notes Gray. Sometimes there’s not enough material to actually isolate a compound in the required amount, so the entire process starts again. “Once you've got to the single pure compound, then you've got to work out what its molecular structure is. That's a challenge. So every step of the way, I guess, is a challenge and that's what really makes it fun.” The team works out of a Level 2 microbiology lab where they run biological assays. The purification process uses high-performance liquid chromatography equipment. For structure elucidation, the team accesses a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer that’s 100 kilometres away at the Fredericton campus of UNB. For mass spectrometry, they send samples to the University of Prince Edward Island. Gray is concerned about access to this essential equipment for his research students. “These are the tools of our trade and should be on hand for my team to use daily,” he says. However, the equipment is expensive, funding is severely limited and the research is too early to entice commercial interests. He receives $29,000 annually from NSERC to cover operating costs for his group of three to five grad students. “I mean that's the problem. We're at the very, very start of the discovery process. Everybody knows that the likelihood of isolating a molecule that can make them any money is really small. That’s why Big Pharma moved away from natural products a few decades ago. The amount of investment required to get your molecule through all that drug discovery and development to market is massive. And knowing the likelihood of that happening and the number of molecules that get dropped along the wayside, people really don't want to be investing money in this until they're sure that there's going to be some kind of payout for them at the end. If we are only going to fund research where there is an obvious, immediate benefit, there's going to be a whole bunch of stuff left unknown.” For Gray, the true value lies in isolating molecules and discovering new molecules - without the need to know how they’ll be applied in the future. “Right now, we can’t even imagine how some of these molecules might end up being used, and we might not know that for another 20, 30, 40, 50 years,” concludes the unwavering explorer.


Net zero mass spectrometer The launch of the world's first net zero mass spectrometer by Thermo Scientific supports sustainable research practices in geoscience, food and beverage, environmental science and forensics. The Thermo Scientific Delta Q Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer (IRMS) is a next generation gas IRMS designed to enable detailed analysis with greater precision and accuracy. It includes an upgrade in software to Qtegra ISDS that improves ease of use and laboratory productivity.

Uperconducting germanium wafers for space and earth applications 5N Plus manufactures high-purity, dislocation-free, electrically uniform germanium wafers to meet demanding space solar and land-based solar applications. 5N Plus germanium wafers are used for solar cells for space and terrestrial applications, lenses for the optics industry, and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The germanium wafers are also currently in orbit powering commercial and military satellites. Germanium is a relatively scarce metal recovered from coal ashes and is a byproduct of zinc mining.

New RNAdia kit for single cell research Dolomite Bio has introduced its RNAdia kit as a highquality, low-cost solution for single-cell RNA sequencing, when combined with the company’s Nadia platform. The company says it gives researchers the same reliable, world-leading results at 50% of the cost of competitor reagents. Nadia takes scRNA-Seq to the next level by using automation and flexibility to generate high-quality, reproducible single-cell data. The kitncapsulates up to eight samples, in parallel, in under 20 minutes, with over 50,000 single cells captured per cartridge in a run.

Powerful analysis made possible through convergence of AI and 3D X-ray microscope Zeiss recently unveiled two new reconstruction technologies that use artificial intelligence to improve data collection and analysis, significantly speeding up decision-making. Now available for the Advanced Reconstruction Toolkit (ART) on Zeiss Xradia 3D X-ray platforms, Zeiss DeepRecon Pro and Zeiss PhaseEvolve modules increase throughput by up to 10x while producing better than ever image quality. They’re designed for research fields including geosciences, pharmaceuticals, electronics, battery and engineering materials, as well as for semiconductor failure analysis.

A new standard for single-cell pharmacology

Picking up on all the tiny bits In studying complex proteins, cryo electron microscopy relies on miniscule sample volumes and a chromatography system that can handle these iotas. Cytiva’s ÄKTA pure micro offers a flow path with low hold-up volumes and provides a comprehensive solution for small sample volumes and micro preparative columns. The system is equipped with 0.6 mL mixer, injection valve, 2 mm UV flow cell, conductivity monitor and outlet valve.


Biozone 6 is a new concept for direct single-cell pharmacology from Fluicell that lets users generate dose-response curves and study the effects of multiple drug compounds in an intuitive way directly on individual cells. With one single Biozone 6 pipette tip, it is possible to target cells individually using up to six different solutions. Biozone 6 is designed to minimize crosstalk between the different channels and has been optimized for short sub-second rise and fall times, resulting in very sharp transition when switching between solutions. The microfluidic design requires just microliters of compound, with very little consumption, making Biozone 6 perfect for experiments using scarce or valuable substances.



All-in-one pipetting solution boosts speed and accuracy The Vistalab ali-Q 2 Series of aliquoting pipet controllers improves the speed and accuracy of repeat pipetting tasks, while providing conventional pipetting capability. The innovative serological pipet controller technology supports both conventional and repeat pipetting tasks, providing a 2-in-1 pipettor to improve the speed and accuracy of liquid handling. Able to multi-dispense any volume up to 5 mL, the system boosts speed and productivity, ensures greater accuracy and eliminates the risk of variation between aliquots.

Customizable flow cytometer is compact and powerful


BD Biosciences recently unveiled a new benchtop cell analyzer that brings sophisticated flow cytometry capabilities to laboratories of all sizes. The new BD FACSymphony A1 Cell Analyzer is a fluorescence-activated cell analyzer that offers advanced research capabilities in a compact design, helping to improve access to instrumentation for complex scientific research to more labs. Fluorescenceactivated cell sorter technology enables the precise isolation of selected single cells from complex samples.

Specialists in flow chemistry at Uniqsis have introduced the Photochemistry LED Illuminator, a new tool to accelerate reaction optimization and batch scale-up of photochemical reactions. LED arrays operating at six different wavelengths from 365–525nm are mounted on cassettes for easy interchangeability in industry-standard 24 or 48 well configurations. The LED Illuminator also has the option of using the six multi-wavelength, screening plate for rapid reaction optimization and is fitted with an adapter to support a flow-through glass static mixer chip.

Opening your ULT freezer every hour? The Eppendorf CryoCube F570 series of ULT freezers (also known as ultra-low temperature freezer/-80°C freezer) is based on a strong compressor for fast recovery to -80°C after opening. This lab freezer compensates for multiple openings per day with a powerful cooling system that enables fast recovery to -80°C after every opening. The freezer minimizes operating costs while providing superior protection for critical samples. A combined insulation based on vacuum insulation panels and polyurethane foam enables extremely low energy consumption during long-term storage ("h" versions).

SlimLine lab washer is small in size but big in capacity

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New illuminator makes the most of photochemical reactions

» The science of food and beverage ISSUE 1 • 2022

Functional foods

that go beyond the basic


New Canadian start-up spins gold out of a common mushroom




What drivers of inflation should be monitored in 2022? By Kyle Burak, Senior Economist, Farm Credit Canada


eadline inflation continues to trend above the Bank of Canada’s target of 2%, and expectations are for inflation to remain elevated into 2022 because of pressures originating from both supply and demand factors. Pent-up consumer demand is robust due to increased household savings and low interest rates. Canadian households’ chequing and savings account balances have increased 51% and stand $158 billion higher than at the end of 2019. The Bank of Canada’s cuts to their policy rate and programs to keep credit flowing have lowered borrowing costs, placing Canadian households in a stronger position to service debt obligations. Factory shutdowns and supply chain disruptions have reduced global inventories, while various employees’ safety measures within plants have slowed line speeds. Despite the challenges, Canadian businesses remain efficient as productivity per employee is at record levels. The reality is, with global economies re-opening and pent-up consumer demand, supply chains can’t keep up. To fill this gap, employers across all sectors are competing hard for qualified labour, resulting in higher wages and benefits. Many Canadian food manufacturing companies are experiencing these challenges firsthand. Unfilled orders of food are at historic highs. Ramping up investments in equipment and/ or vehicles is difficult given global microchip shortages and shipping disruptions. These struggles to meet demand have led to higher prices


Food costs could get higher Before they subside

Food inflation is at the top of the economic news cycle. Higher agricultural commodity prices and labor challenges are arguably the two biggest drivers. The Western Canadian drought has caused a major decrease in grain, oilseed and pulse production of up to 30% nationally (40% in the Prairies). Challenging crop growing conditions in Western U.S. and Central Asia have also contributed to tighter supplies and higher prices. Low water levels on the Colorado River have forced water restrictions for 2022, impacting farmers in Arizona, Nevada and parts of California and Mexico. Reduced water supplies in key agriculture regions should put further pressure on imported nut, fruit and vegetable prices in the new year. Livestock prices have been trending higher than their 5-year average in 2021 as the reopening of the economy led to stronger meat demand. This turned into record-high meat prices at processing level. Labour is a top concern throughout the food and beverage industry. At the end of the second quarter, there was over

98,000 job vacancies in food service and food manufacturing – up 34.9% and 63.2%, respectively, versus the 5-year pre-COVID average. Food manufacturers seek to pass on cost increases from higher wages, and from commodity and energy prices, to keep their share of the food dollar. To date, many manufacturers have been fairly successful, passing on a net price increase of over 8.1% YoY through three quarters of the year. We are now seeing these higher costs make their way through the aisles, with food inflation ramping up in Q3 (Figure 1). Not all these cost increases have reached consumers, though, as companies generally attempt to periodically increase prices. If these cost pressures become long-lasting, then the pressure will grow on both the manufacturers and retailers to further elevate prices.

Figure 1: Food inflation started to gain steam in Q3 2021 Source: Statistics Canada (as of October 31, 2021)

CPI inflation quarterly average, year-over-year change Percent





3.0 2.0 1.0 -1.0 -2.0 -3.0






























There are, however, a few bright spots. Reference prices for some grains and oilseeds (corn and soybeans) have come down their summer highs. Animal protein prices at the farm and processing levels have come down their highs, too. Other commodity prices (e.g., wheat) remain much higher than normal. The higher loonie also offers relief to food inflation. Canadians rely on the supply of imported food, and the higher dollar softens the blow of higher commodity prices in some areas like fruit and vegetable products, breakfast cereals, sugar, snack foods and coffee. An increase in the exchange rate would be an advantage for domestic food companies importing inputs. Conversely, Canadian food exporters would lose some competitiveness in global markets. We believe food inflation will remain elevated and possibly outpace the all-item headline inflation. As supply chain disruptions and labour challenges ease and the supply of agricultural commodities rebounds, we should record lower food inflation. The difficult question is around the timeline associated with a return to average inflationary pressures. Only one thing seems sure: the current economic recovery comes with heightened uncertainty. Resiliency and productivity are two qualities of the Canadian agri-food supply chain that are essential to successfully control food inflation. Kyle Burak, Senior Economist, Farm Credit Canada


across the supply chain. We expect supply chain constraints to ease over time, but strength in consumer demand and elevated production costs should keep inflation running higher and thus higher consumer prices. In response to the strong inflationary pressures throughout the economy, watch for the Bank of Canada to curb inflation. The Bank ended its quantitative easing program in October 2021, electing to keep its balance sheet stable and limiting money supply growth. The next step is an increase in its policy rate. Financial markets are currently expecting the rate to increase by as much as 1% (4 increases of 25 basis points) in 2022.



Canadian Food Business partners with CIFST

Beginning in 2022, readers of Canadian Food Business magazine can expect even more insightful industry news as the magazine has partnered with the Canadian Institute of Food Science and Technology (CIFST). Building on a desire to offer Canadians the most reliable information, the two groups have come together on a platform for leading experts, innovators and scientists to showcase the latest trends, knowledge and developments that are changing the face of Canada’s food industry today. We’ll still be showcasing leading edge companies in the food and beverage space as we’ve always done, but with CIFST as a partner we’ll be able to tap into a pool of powerful industry insiders.

Plants or cow’s milk? It’s hard to tell.

NotCo, a food-tech company, is using AI and a team of chefs and food scientists to create a dairy-free, plant-based product that tastes, feels and functions like cow's milk. The international food tech company is expanding into Canada with the launch of its NotMilk dairy-free product. NotMilk is now available in British Columbia and Quebec in 1%, 2% and whole varieties, at a suggested retail price between $4.69 and $4.99. It will arrive on store shelves in Ontario in December.

Farming in the produce aisles



In a bid to reduce the grocery supply chain carbon footprint, two Canadian grocers have taken a new twist on the traditional produce aisle, bringing the farm right into the store. The IGA in Montreal’s Saint-Laurent borough sells organic produce grown on its very own roof, one of the largest organic greenroof gardens in the country at 25,000 sq.ft. It includes 30 different vegetables, a variety of flowers and eight beehives producing 600 jars of honey a year. Meanwhile, Sobey’s has taken a new leaf out of the vertical farming playbook and will be introducing in-store farming units to some of its grocery stores to quench consumer thirst for fresh ingredients. Working with Berlin-based InFarm, a hydroponics company, Sobey’s will roll out farm units that provide a controlled environments for growing herbs, microgreens, and leafy vegetables right in the store.

Researchers at the University of Toronto find nuts do not contribute to weight gain

University of Toronto researchers have found there is no link between nuts and weight gain. In fact, they found that a higher nut intake actually led to reductions in body weight. To land on this discovery, they gathered the results of 121 clinical trials and prospective studies, with over half a million participants. They then used a widely accepted system called GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation) to gauge the quality of the studies.

Tracking the genetic evolution of chickpeas for better crops

Food integrity study shows Canadians are unsure about the food system

A report from the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI) shows consumers are confused about which way their food system is heading. While the 2021 Public Trust Research Report reveals that Canadians are interested in improving the food system, including food affordability, sustainability and transparency, at the same time a larger portion of study participants than the previous year said they were unsure if the food system was heading in the right direction. “Respondents do not feel they can confidently say that the food system is moving in the right or wrong direction because they simply don’t know what information to trust,” explained John Jamieson, President and CEO for CCFI. The research revealed the global pandemic has not affected trust levels among Canadians. Respondents indicated that they do not feel it was more difficult to access food during the pandemic, with some even saying it was easier. There was minimal mention of empty grocery store shelves with respondents indicating this was only for “hot ticket items.”

First-ever assessment of blue food environmental impacts

A study out of Dalhousie University shows that some oceansourced foods leave a lower environmental impact than others. The research looked at nearly three-quarters of global production and drew on studies reporting data from more than 1,690 fish farms and 1,000 unique fishery records worldwide. Researchers found that seaweed, mussels and oyster production generated the fewest greenhouse gas and nutrient emissions, like phosphorous and nitrogen, and used the least land and water. Capture fisheries also resulted in few nutrient emissions and used limited land and water. Compared to farmed fish, however, the researchers found greenhouse gas emissions range from relatively low, for such species as sardines and cod, to relatively high for flatfish and lobsters. “Our results highlight not only the large differences in environmental impacts between and within major sources of blue foods across these environmental stressors but confirm the important role that many blue foods can play in reducing the impacts of human diets,” says Peter Tyedmers, a co-author and professor at Dalhousie’s School for Resource and Environmental Studies. Commonly eaten farmed finfish, such as salmon and carp, outperform other farmed blue foods on several environmental indicators, while most blue foods outperform chicken, which generates similar environmental pressures as tilapia, one of the more impactful blue foods assessed. This new set of standardized metrics can be used to benchmark the environmental impacts of blue foods to steer future production toward lower emissions and resource use - a key part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and ocean health.


Two University of Saskatchewan researchers have joined a global team tracking the genetic evolution and migration of the chickpea for insights that could lead to more nutritious and adaptable varieties. Bunyamin Tar’an and Amit Deokar of the school’s College of Agriculture and Bioresources are helping to sequence the genes of 200 Canadian chickpea plants. “Chickpeas are one of the main protein sources for hundreds of millions of people — especially in South Asia, Africa and other parts of the world,” said Tar’an. “The research provides an avenue to support global efforts to develop chickpeas with even better nutritional value as well as more climate-resilient varieties.” Funding for the study was provided by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture and the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers.



One Canadian start-up has spun gold

from the common

white button mushroom By Jana Manolakos CANADIAN FOOD BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 4 • 2 0 2 2



onsumers today are demanding transparency when it comes to the ingredients in their food and beverages. They're looking for healthy, sustainable solutions, but up until now, natural preservatives for these products were hard to find. Who would have thought that an ordinary mushroom held the key? Canadian start-up Chinova Bioworks did. The food ingredient manufacturer grabbed hold of a unique niche five years ago, developing a natural preservative for processed food and beverage products extracted from the stems of white button mushrooms that improves the quality, freshness and shelf life of foods in different categories. The company says it’s a natural alternative that is sustainable, effective and works as a food safety solution without compromising taste, texture or appearance. The journey for company co-founders Natasha Dhayagude and David Brown began in a home basement research lab in 2016 in Fredericton, New Brunswick. They pioneered the use of chitosan, a mushroom fiber that they’ve trademarked Chiber. It offered a clean-label solution to food spoilage by inhibiting microorganisms

like mold, and it could achieve similar results to the traditional chemical preservatives that food companies are trying to replace. They determined the optimal amount of white button mushroom extract to support a shelf life that was similar to synthetic preservatives and identified doses that would be affordable for food and beverage processors. “We're really lucky to have had a lot of amazing support and we've leveraged a lot of different programs and leaned on a lot of grant funding to just kickstart the company,” Dhayagude says. So, as soon they founded the company, the first program they participated in was IndieBio, a global venture capital company located in the US and Ireland. The IndieBio gave them access to a number of resources, including a lab facility from which they could build on their initial research and develop a viable product. “We were able to pitch to different investors. We were able to talk to our first early customers to gain validation that this is why this technology was needed in the marketplace. And then (we had) a lot of pitch training,”recalls Dhayagude.

On returning to Canada, they leveraged federal and provincial funding programs like the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program and the Canadian Food Innovation Network. And, they hired their first employees through local university co-op programs. As a female entrepreneur who identifies as a visible minority, Dhayagude is on a mission to open opportunities for other women in STEM. “Creating these positions and empowering women really helps to promote representation to empower them to grow,” she says. “We've been collaborating with some amazing female-led companies within this space. It’s really been great to get their support and learn from the things they had to overcome to create change. And I’m just proud to say that to date our company is 90% women in STEM.” “Mushrooms are on the rise within the industry,” explains Dhayagude. “Both brands and consumers are starting to recognize the health benefits they’re offering. But, what we find, especially within the ingredient space, is that they're a great source of protein or macronutrients.” According to Mushrooms Canada, an industry trade association, there are more than 100 mushroom farms in Canada. More than half (52%) of mushroom production is in Ontario, 39% in British Columbia and the rest comefrom the remaining provinces. Nearly 300 million lbs. (146,000 tons) of mushrooms are grown in Canada each year. Most are sold fresh, some are canned. Out of these, the most popular among consumers is the White Button. During harvesting, a large portion of the fungus stem is left behind and discarded

by farmers. For Chinova, that is where the opportunity lies. The team connected with farmers to collect the leftover stems. Dhayagude explains, “Our mission really has been to provide value throughout the food supply chain, right from collecting that mushroom stem from those farmers, which would otherwise be wasted, and then transforming it into that commercially viable ingredient that can then be sold to brands and then can be included on a label that will provide that end transparency and food safety solution.” Gaining acceptance for mushroom extract as a natural preservative on product labels has had its challenges. “We get a lot of questions and work really hard to educate our clients and customers. We really push to showcase the efficacy because there are limited options when it comes to natural preservatives and limited ways in which you can label.” The company provides information sheets to clients to help them respond to consumer questions. The good news is that a lot of Chinova’s clients are innovators who are already disrupting the plant-based dairy and meat landscape. The company supplies a number of innovative mushroom protein alternative companies and has seen an increase in demand for mushrooms in adaptogenic beverages that help the body cope with stressors. “The pandemic has really accelerated the trend for food safety. For brands, keeping food safe is much more than just preventing spoilage. It has evolved into protecting flavour, texture and colour, and maintaining the overall quality of the final product over its shelf life.” Riding on the surge of interest in functional foods, one can only imagine how much Chinova sales will mushroom.

It offered a clean-label solution to food spoilage by inhibiting microorganisms like mold, and it could achieve similar results to the traditional chemical preservatives that food companies are trying to replace.



MoOove over milk,

plants are taking on the

traditional beverage space By Jana Manolakos




nce relegated to the far corner of the health food section, milk alternatives like oat, almond, peas and barley have come mainstream and have pushed the dairy industry into a tight corner of its own. According to Nielsen data that looked at the food and beverage segments in 2020, US sales of oat beverages outperformed dairy milk, with a 212% increase in the 31-week period ending October 3, while dairy milk increased by 9%. It even outperformed almond milk, a market front-runner for years. In Canada, sales of alternative milk beverages increased by 20.9%.

Interest in plant-based foods continues to grow

At a conference hosted by the Canadian Institute of Food Science and Technology in October, Jenna Kuori, Business Development Manager for Plant-Based Proteins, Ingredion Canada, explained that sustainability, functionality and taste are key drivers for innovating in the plant-based alternatives space. She referenced a 2020 Food and Health Survey by the International Food Information Council, which showed that 34% of consumers consider sustainability when purchasing food. “Sustainability is becoming increasingly important in terms of product claims and positionings,” she said. “It

encompasses products and processes that are, first, good for the planet, so they are environmentally-friendly and clean label. This includes non-GMO and organic claims, animal welfare and other ethical considerations, as well as food security.” Second, she added, health and nutrition also drive consumer choices, with 43% of consumers in that same survey assuming that plant-based is healthier than non-plant-based. “This includes enhanced and added nutrition, higher protein, and reduced sugar,” she explained. And finally, taste is a major consideration when innovating in the plant-based space. “The product needs to deliver in terms of nutritional and plant-based requirements, while achieving superior texture, flavour, and mitigation of any off notes,” she says. The landscape for dairy and dairy-alternative products in Canada has changed significantly over the last few years. Canada's Food Guide has pivoted from stressing the importance of dairy to adopting more plant-based and fruitand vegetable-based foods. “And looking at the compound annual growth rate of product launches in Canada over the last five years, we see a 5% growth in milk-alternative products versus a 1.6% in traditional milk products,” adds Kuori.


Lesley Srivastava, a senior account manager for Canadian food processing giant Cargill, says that agriculture is According to Sylvain Charlebois, it spells responsible for approximately 8% of the trouble. Charlebois is a renowned expert world's total greenhouse gas emissions, on food distribution policy who leads the with about half coming from livestock and 2020 US sales Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie half from crop production. “Diesel and gas of oat beverages University. are used to plant and cultivate, harvest outperformed dairy Canada’s dairy supply is managed and transport crops, producing CO2. milk, with a 212% through the Canadian Dairy Commission, Large quantities of natural gas are used to increase in the which sets quotas calculated on a monthly manufacture fertilizers that promote plant basis that balance supply with demand. growth.” Once applied, those fertilizers 31-week period However, Charlebois points out that produce nitrous oxide, a greenhouse ending October 3, recent trade deals signed with Asia and gas 300 times more dangerous to the while dairy milk Europe allow more dairy products to environment than carbon dioxide. increased by 9%. enter the Canadian market tariff-free. “To reach our greenhouse gas reductions “These measures created a breach in by 2030, we need to find a way to balance our supply management system,” says that target with policy, profitability and Charlebois. “Which is why the Federal sustainability,” she adds. Governmentopted to throw nearly $2 On another front, in 2020 almost 30,000 billion over eight years at dairy farmers. metric tons of California almonds made But the real menace may be on the domestic front, with their way into Canada. That’s good news for the industry, but consumers clearly longing for choice,” he adds. bad news for the environment. It takes over 8,637 L of water Charlebois believes that the surge in non-dairy beverages to grow 1 lb. of almonds, a costly endeavour in the face of is taking a heavy toll on farms and processing plants. “Saputo California’s water shortage. recently announced the closure of two plants, one in New For Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC), their ethical and Brunswick and the other one in Trenton, ON. Meanwhile, sustainable practices are expressed in the Blue Cow logo. It’s Canada's largest dairy cooperative, Agropur, is facing financial seen on dairy products made from Canadian milk they say have headwinds. Difficult decisions are looming at Agropur and met high standards in animal care, food safety, milk quality and the storyline is all about how the market is flirting with plantsustainable production. based alternatives,” he says. The industry recently teamed up with environmental And while a majority of younger consumers are leading the organizations to promote sustainability in the dairy sector trend on alternative beverages, in large part because of their aimed at improved farming productivity, waste reduction, belief in the value of sustainability, it may not be that clear cut. tree plantings and responsible resource management. The marketing campaign, Here for Tomorrow, features projects underway on Canadian farms working on sustainable outcomes. Rob Kowal, president of Kriscor & Associates, a Canadian company providing functional and nutritional ingredients to food manufacturers, says the market for milk alternatives has contributed to a glut in innovative products entering the space. From Canadian rock icon Bryan Adams’ investment in BC-based Bettermoo(d) to dairy giants like Gay Lea pushing coconut whipped toppings and newcomers like Not Milk, a pea protein and sunflower oil drink that claims to taste just like milk, next-generation producers are riding the wave of consumer demand for lactose-free and trans fat-free, easily digestible proteins and beverages, pushing milk products to ‘moove’ on over.


What does the surge in plantbased beverages mean for the Canadian dairy industry?



Communicating Health Claims for Functional Foods CANADIAN FOOD BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 4 • 2 0 2 2


by Marcia English


n terms of the nutritional benefits they provide, not all foods are considered equal. Foods or food components that have been demonstrated to provide a health benefit beyond meeting basic nutrition may be described as functional foods. The term was first promoted in Japan in the 1980s, and today Japan remains one of the most advanced functional food markets in the world. Although there is no consensus on the definition of functional food, they can be broadly grouped into three categories: (a) natural foods containing physiologically active components; (b) foods that have been enriched or modified with physiologically active or biologically active components; and (c) synthesized food ingredients that demonstrate a physiological benefit (e.g., indigestible carbohydrates). A 2021 Mintel report suggests that demand and markets for functional foods continue to rise. Indeed, the current market in Canada is worth approximately CDN$13.93 billion and is projected to reach CDN$19.8 billion in 2025. However, the

development of functional food can be a risky process since some consumers have conflicting perspectives on whether functional foods are actually linked to health benefits or if they are primarily used as a marketing strategy. Food labels that promote nutrition and health claims have also been criticized for containing misleading information. These observations suggest there is more to be done to better inform consumers of the potential health benefits linked with consuming functional foods.

Health claims for functional foods: How are they established?

Health claims are statements that imply a link between consuming functional foods and a potential health benefit. However, the lack of a universal definition for functional foods affects the level of the evidence needed to establish health claims in different countries. Thus, health claims alone are not sufficient evidence; understanding the level or the weight of the


Consumer response to functional food health claims

Recent reports from the scientific literature confirm that consumers are genuinely interested in health-related claims, but interest seems to vary depending on the type of functional food products. The presence of too much information and difficulty interpreting different health claims have been noted as factors that can negatively influence whether consumers purchase functional foods. The successful communication of health claims is a concern that has also been raised among different stakeholders. Importantly, health claims find their true value when they are effectively used by manufacturers to communicate information about the positive health benefits of functional foods to consumers. However, a further challenge for food manufacturers is to realize that consumers have different needs, and that information in health claims will only be of interest to different segments or groups of consumers.


scientific evidence that forms the basis to support that claim is what’s important. The establishment of health claims is a process in which a health concept related to a functional food becomes a health claim through many regulated steps. The first step involves a systematic literature review that gathers information about previous research of the potential functional food of interest. Then, product analysis evaluates the product’s quality and stability. Preliminary studies in animal models may also be useful as indicators of safety and the efficacy of the food or food components of interest. Although animal studies are not reflective of realistic doses to be used in humans, they can be important to

help gain approval for human studies. Well-designed, controlled human intervention trials are the most effective approach to demonstrate the efficacy of functional foods. In these studies, participants are exposed to the potential functional foods of interest in a safe and ethical way, and the functional effect of the food is evaluated. Biological markers, components in our body that can be measured and evaluated, are used to provide physiological information, and are important to gather scientific proof about the effectiveness of the proposed functional food. Supporting evidence from laboratory experiments is also used to provide insights about mechanisms of action that explain the association between the consumption of the potential function food and the resulting health effect. Finally, after acquiring government approval, the health concept is then considered a health claim. All the evidence that these various procedures provide are valuable in establishing health claims, which in turn help to validate functional foods. Indeed, the scientific rigor involved in this process will vary in different countries based on their regulatory frameworks. However, this is fundamentally what separates how well a functional food “satisfactorily demonstrates” a functional effect. Ultimately, in each country, this will impact the number of functional food products that are available in the marketplace. In Canada, health claims can be grouped into two main categories: function health claims and reduced risk claims. Function claims refer to the beneficial effects that the consumption of functional foods or food components have on normal functions or biological activities of the body. On the other hand, reduced risk claims link a food or constituent of that food to reducing the risk of developing a dietrelated disease or condition. Ideally, labeling for these health claims should adhere to the current regulatory standards and should not over-state scientific evidence. However, this ideal situation is not always what is observed in the marketplace, which can make it challenging for consumers who want to purchase these foods. But as we well know, the factors that influence how consumers understand health claims can be complex.





More importantly, these intended consumers can play a role in stimulating positive responses about functional foods to consumers in other segments. Thus, the unanswered question about what influences consumer understanding of health claims for functional foods can only be addressed when we evaluate the individual consumer characteristics, as well as the functional foods themselves and how the health claims are communicated. Individual factors that can impact how consumers respond to functional food health claims include sociodemographic factors, knowledge of nutrition information, familiarity with or awareness of functional food ingredients, country of residence (i.e., developing nations vs. developed), and consumer overall experience with food (pleasurable and happy versus unpleasant). Although these factors are not controlled by food manufacturers, they play important roles in determining consumers’ responses to claims about functional foods and their willingness to purchase these foods. Conversely, factors related to products such as cost and the way in which health claims are communicated on these products are within the grasp of food manufacturers to change. Thus, strategies to improve consumer understanding of health claims can begin here. For example, the use of short health claims on the front label of functional foods can be more effective to some consumer segments in generating a positive image in the consumers’ minds compared to longer claims. Other consumer segments might also prefer to have more information on active ingredients and their health benefits. The takeaway here is that consumers are not a homogenous group. Research has also shown that when the strength of scientific evidence is conveyed using visual aids, consumer understanding of health claims also increases.

Consumer confidence in functional foods depends on the processes underlying the evaluation of claims. Thus, in the context of a growing interest to respond to the urgent concerns about communicating health claims, food manufacturers and policy makers have a role to play in being transparent and ensuring that health claims on functional foods are truthful and not misleading. Consumers are not a homogenous group, and so efforts to encourage more functional foods in their diets should be targeted at different consumer segment groups. It may also be important for policies governing producers’ use of health claims to not only evaluate whether claims are deceptive or misleading, but also evaluate how well they encourage producers to disseminate new information about functional foods to consumers. On the path to optimized nutrition, it is also important to help consumers personally link the attributes of functional foods to the consequences of consuming them.

A 2021 Mintel report suggests that demand and markets for functional foods continue to rise. Indeed, the current market in Canada is worth approximately CDN$13.93 billion and is projected to reach CDN$19.8 billion in 2025.

Table 1. Examples of functional foods and their potential health benefits Name of food

Biologically active components

Potential health effects


Flavonoids and anthocyanins

May reduce the risk of cancers Protect cells from oxidative damage

Fermented dairy products (yogurt)

Probiotics, bioactive peptides

Improves immune response Helps reduce growth of pathogenic microorganisms

Salmon and other high-fat fish

Omega-3 fatty acid

Supports brain and eye health

Margarine spreads

Margarine spreads fortified with plant sterols

Reduction in cholesterol

Whole grains

Resistant starch and dietary fibre

Supports gut and cardiovascular health

Marcia English, PhD is Associate Professor in the Department of Human Nutrition at Saint Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia

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BIOLAB BUSINESS VO L U M E 3 6, I S S U E 4 • 2 0 2 2


t goes as far back as the Assyrians who documented the use of willow leaves for rheumatic inflammation on stone tablets during the Sumerian period, around 2000 BCE. They found that willow leaves and bark reduced fevers and inflammation. Willows naturally produce salicylic acid in response to stress and to help fight against bacterial infection. It’s an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial compound metabolized from the salicin in the bark. By the 1700s in Europe, powdered willow bark was used widely in pain control. By the 1890s, it appeared on pharmacy shelves in the synthesized form of acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) tablets, trademarked by the Bayer Company as Aspirin. In 1948, Lawrence Craven, a California general practitioner, was the first to report a link between ASA and the prevention of myocardial infarction and stroke. Researchers took this work even further, demonstrating that ASA inhibited the body’s production of clot forming prostaglandins that can lead to heart attack or stroke – receiving the 1982 Nobel Prize in medicine for their efforts. Patrice Lindsay, Director of Health Systems at Heart & Stroke explains, “ASA has anti-platelet (anti-clotting) properties, which means it can help slow down how fast a clot is forming or help reduce the size of the clot.” She warns, “ASA alone is not enough, and anyone showing signs of chest pain or a heart attack needs to get emergency medical treatment.” Lindsay says that daily use of ASA is not recommended for preventing a first-time heart attack or stroke. Research has shown that the side effect of ASA – risk of bleeding in your stomach or brain – may be higher than the benefit of preventing a first stroke or heart attack. For those thinking of brewing up their own cup of willow tea to help with pain, Lindsay explains, “The amount of salicin or ASA obtained by boiling willow bark is unclear and may not meet the minimum required dose to be effective. If you require a specific amount of ASA to treat or prevent a medical condition, it is safer to use commercial ASA with known doses, as the amount released in boiling willow bark is unclear and likely would be lower than what is needed or prescribed.” It seems ASA’s star has yet to diminish, with several studies now pointing to its potential in lowering the risk of bowel cancer.

Willows naturally produce salicylic acid in response to stress and to help fight against bacterial infection.



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