Interview with Doug Sommerville, CEO of PlantEXT Ltd.
On February 26, 2019, Doug Sommerville, CEO of PlantEXT Ltd., will be speaking at Kahner Global's Cannabis Private Investment Summit in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The event will host more than 130 industry leaders and investors for a day of collaboration and networking.
1. What industry did you work in before moving into the cannabis industry?
I spent thirty years in the medical pharmaceutical industry. I spent many of those years with a company called Baxter, which is a Chicago-based medical pharmaceutical company focusing mainly on hospitals. I was Vice President of the medication delivery division in Canada. I then spent a couple of years in Chicago, where I was the Global Vice President for their infusion device group, which is basically device equipment for IV infusion.
I then had an opportunity to join TEVA, the world's largest generic drug manufacturer in 2005 and stayed with TEVA until March of last year. I retired as President in Canada and, as part of the restructure they went through, I had a great opportunity to take retirement and what else I may want to do in the latter part of my career.
When my retirement was announced, I received calls from a few people, including Joe Oliver, Chairman of the Board of our company, PlantEXT. Joe was formerly the Minister of Finance in Canada under Stephen Harper's cabinet. He was also the Minister of Natural Resources, and he's a very well-known Canadian columnist who writes for a number of the newspapers. He asked me if I'd be interested in exploring an opportunity with an Israeli corporation with ties to Canada. I ended up coming on board at the beginning of May.
2. What experience did you have with cannabis prior to deciding to work at PlantEXT?
Prior to this, the only experience I had had with cannabis was a personal one. A relative who has Cystitis was having some difficulty with medications not being effective. They'd had the condition for a number of years. They'd become extremely thin, didn't sleep well, and was on eight to ten medications at the time. They weren't working. A doctor eventually recommended trying different formats of CBD.
It was almost life-changing for them. They gained weight, sleeps like they haven't slept in a long time, and was able to reduce a number of her medications. It was not a placebo effect. They were not someone who basically wanted nothing to do with cannabis, and yet it has really gotten to the point now where they changed their vacation plans because taking medications could be an issue—that is how important treatment has become for them.
So that was enough for me to see that there's more to this than hype. Probably the most interesting thing I heard from this experience was, first, they weren't told to use this medication but rather was told to try a bunch of combinations. Coming from pharma, you would say that's not the best approach. Secondly, they didn't know why it worked.
I thought if you could be more targeted and actually deliver a medication for particular disease states, and then understand why it works, you can fill in a lot of the anecdotal gaps. So that was what I thought was going to be the possibility of PlantEXT, and why I chose it over a couple of very well known LPs that were offering some very senior positions. I wanted to deliver a product that would probably have more impact and more legacy.
3. What is PlantEXT?
PlantEXT is basically a pharma company that uses cannabis as our API, as our active pharmaceutical ingredient, and we focus on inflammatory diseases. Now, when I say inflammation, I mean everything from inflammatory bowel diseases to asthma to psoriasis...inflammation is a huge area within medicine, and because we know that cannabis has anti-inflammatory properties, we're trying to become the world's experts at formulations, particularly for inflammatory diseases. A formulation for IBD will be the very first that we launch.
4. How effective is PlantEXT’s formulation at treating the symptoms of IBD and general inflammation, and when do you expect to launch?
We are actually going to be launching the IBD format at the end of the quarter, and we will be doing clinical concurrent. That was at the suggestion of a leading GI specialist. She is extremely excited about what we've been able to find up to this point in time. Her feeling is that it's a very safe, effective product, and we should get it to patients because she truly believes that it's better than what they're using today. What they're using today is often steroids, which are extremely difficult on the body.
5. Provided you can disclose this information, what ingredients does PlantEXT use besides cannabinoids?
First of all, our formulation is non-psychoactive. It's a very low concentration of THC [tetrahydrocannabinol]. In some cases it's a combination of different cannabinoids. There is also some cannabinoids in the acid format—in other words, the product that you get without decarboxylating the plant—and other things that are extremely important, such as terpenes and flavonoids. When we checked formulations with and without these compounds, we found that you get a much more effective impact when they're included. Some of the terpenes have been known to be anti-inflammatory for many years and people have been extracting them from spinach and other natural plants. When you do a combination with CBD, you can almost supercharge the effect.