Inside the London company on the cutting edge of cannabis science
Born out of proving nutrition claims through science, KGK sees the same potential in cannabis
Whether you know it or not, chances are KGK Science has probably touched some aspect of your life. If you regularly take vitamins or health supplements, you've probably benefited from the company's work on your last trip to the local drug store.
"If it says it's better absorbed, we've likely done that study or if you get a cholesterol-lowering product or a probiotic, we've likely done a lot of those studies," said company CEO Najla Guthrie.
A scientist herself, Guthrie, first cut her teeth at Western University studying the anti-cancer effects of compounds found in foods, such as flavinoids or tocotrienols.
She took that knowledge to the nutrition industry and in 1997, became one of the founding members of KGK Science. Since then she's seen nutrition science grow from a cottage industry into a billion dollar business.
Poised to ride the next wave of legalization
KGK Science was acquired by Auxly Cannabis Group in August for $12.3 million. With the recent takeover, Guthrie hopes to be at the forefront of the next wave of legalization.
"Absolutely," she said. "We felt that all of this expertise and knowledge that we have learned is very much applicable to the cannabis space. I see a lot of similarities between both industries."
The most obvious parallel between cannabis and nutrition products is their health claims, not always backed by science.
It's why KGK Science does such brisk business. There are no laws requiring companies to pay for scientific testing to back up their claims, but Guthrie said having the work done can make a big difference at the cash register.
"That's what's going to differentiate their products in the marketplace, is for them to be able to show how long it takes to absorb, how long it's in the system, the safety profile."
With a retinue of cannabis-infused drinks and edibles legally for sale in Canada next month, KGK Science has been hard at work: making sure they deliver on their promise and, maybe most important of all, that they don't taste like bong water.
"It is still the wild west but there is a lot innovation going on," she said. "I think that's where a lot of the interest is in many of these products, but the science has to lead the way."
Big beer pouring millions into cannabis
Guthrie can't divulge who her clients are for confidentiality reasons.
Beer companies, for example, seems to be looking to cannabis as a panacea for sagging sales of suds, putting millions into research and even controlling stakes in large Canadian cannabis companies.
In August, Molson-Coors Brewing Co. bought a majority stake in Quebec-based cannabis producer HEXO, Labatt owner Anheuser-Busch InBev teamed up with B.C. bud grower Tilray and liquor giant Contellation Brands bought a controlling share of Canopy Growth.
Research into effects of cannabis in edibles, drinks
While KGK Science does testing with THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, it's also testing the effects of CBD, THC's mellower cousin and a buzzy wellness product that's all the rage right now.
As a result, big corporations are putting it in everything from balms and creams to sport supplements, Guthrie said her company is even testing a CBD-infused vitamin gummy.
"We have a number of U.S. companies working with us on that exact same concept," she said.
KGK Science is also looking into how to avoid getting into trouble with the law.
Some clinical trials look at how quickly you get high, as in how quickly the drug is absorbed by your body. Other trials look at how quickly you sober up, as in how long it takes for the chemical to stop affecting your brain.
KGK Science is currently testing a device that Guthrie said could be a game-changer for law enforcement when it comes to impaired driving. Right now Canadian police use a saliva test for cannabis.
"The equivalent of a breathalyzer, for example," she said. "A device similar to that, not a breathalyzer, but similar, the same concept."
Guthrie said those are only a few examples of what cannabis offers her company in terms of avenues of scientific exploration.
"I think we've made it taboo for so long that the technology has yet to catch up to the products," "There's a lot of work to be done and a lot of innovation that's happening right now."
As only one of about a dozen companies of its type in North America, and with clinical trials on THC forbidden in the United States, KGK Science is in a niche position.
The company recently brought on a senior scientist from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to better tailor its product testing to American regulations. Last month, it acquired a Canadian research license for human trials in cannabis-based pharmaceuticals.
"Canada has a an opportunity here to be a global leader in this space and I think the whole world is looking to us," she said. "I think the whole world is looking to us to be a global leader."