Israel leverages relaxed regulations, scientific skills to lure cannabis R&D dollars

Israel is looking to lure cannabis R&D investment on the strength of its relatively relaxed research regulations and scientific experience in the field. The mix of characteristics has helped Israel pull in a reported $50 million (€44 million) from U.S. investors since 2014, a sum observers are tipping to grow to $100 million in the coming year.

Saul Kaye, CEO of Israeli cannabis research incubator iCAN, made the $100 million prediction in an interview with Reuters. The forecast is underpinned by a belief that U.S. investors can squeeze more value out of their dollars in Israel than in their home country. Israel has relatively relaxed regulations on cannabis studies, allowing researchers to get experiments up and running without the same level of bureaucracy that is encountered in other countries.

"In the United States it's easier to study heroin than marijuana," U.S. psychiatrist Suzanne Sisley told Reuters. "With marijuana you have to go through added layers of government red tape. It highlights the way marijuana research is being shackled by politics." Sisley has firsthand experience of the U.S. regulatory landscape from a study in which cannabis was given to military veterans as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The situation faced in Israel by Raphael Mechoulam, the Hebrew University professor who isolated and synthesized the primary active ingredient in marijuana, is different. "Cannabinoid research was and still is viewed positively by government committees," he said. When paired to the prominence of Israel in agricultural research, this government outlook and the decades of work it has supported are seen by some U.S. companies as giving the country an edge.

"What you would spend half a million dollars on in the U.S. you could easily get for 125 or 150 thousand dollars in Israel and it's going to be done efficiently and on time," Seth Yakatan, CEO of California-based Kalytera Therapeutics, said. "The quality of research is world-class and the arbitrage of value is good." Kalytera is running animal studies of cannabinoid-related molecules it thinks could treat conditions including osteoporosis.

- read the Reuters article

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