Alvit LCS Pharma CEO Yona Levy tells Health Europa why cannabis-based products must be developed with the doctor in mind.
Israeli-based Alvit LCS Pharma is an international vertically integrated medical cannabis R&D company specialising in pharma grade cannabis-based products development and drug delivery technologies. Founded in 2014, Alvit has successfully developed a broad product range, including tablets, sprays and suppositories, many of which have already completed or been approved for clinical trials in Israel.
Speaking to Health Europa, CEO Yona Levy discusses the history of the company, its unique product offering, and its ambitions in Europe.
How did Alvit LCS Pharma begin?
Alvit was established five years ago with the purpose of developing cannabis-based products that speak in a language doctors understand. Among our founders and board members are key figures from both the cannabis industry and the core of the pharmaceutical industry in Israel, including:
- Nachshol Cohen (chief scientific officer), who boasts more than ten years of experience in industrial-scale cultivation of cannabis and is extremely active within the global cannabis market
- Dr Yoram Sela (founder), who founded and for nine years managed the drug delivery unit at Teva Pharmaceuticals
- Dr Itschak Lamensdorf (founder), who founded Pharmaseed, Israel’s largest preclinical contract research organisation, as well as PharmaSense, a biotechnology company
- Professor Dan Peer (advisor), who directs the Laboratory of Precision Nanomedicine at Tel Aviv University
- Dr Eran Blaugrund (head of pharmacology), who established and managed the pharmacology department at Teva.
Can you explain what you mean by cannabis-based products that speak ‘in a language doctors understand’?
At present, doctors do not feel comfortable prescribing cannabis-based products, because they do not understand them. There are so many different types and strains available – indica, sativa, varying percentages of THC and CBD etc. – but doctors don’t necessarily have the information they need to know what effect a particular strain will have on a particular patient. They simply have to trust the seller to give the patient the right thing. But, of course, doctors are not in the business of trusting others.
Alvit provides the information doctors need in order to feel comfortable prescribing cannabis-based products – details on, for instance, APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients), bioavailability, onset of action etc. Perhaps the most important thing we do is we carry out clinical trials to prove that what we say is correct and provide an extra reassurance to doctors.
You have to remember that we’re talking about probably the biggest revolution since the internet, and at the moment we’re missing the most important players – the doctors. They are the ones who are supposed to drive this industry forward and bring in the patients. But right now, it isn’t working like that; it’s the patients who are insisting on getting access to medical cannabis.
What is it that makes Alvit stand out from its competitors?
I don’t believe I’ve seen any other companies in the market that have the kind of cannabis-based products we do – sublingual tablets, extended release, delayed release, suppositories etc. Others might be developing them, but they’re not out there yet.
Something else that sets our products apart is our team and the years of experience and knowledge they bring to what we do. These are people that are used to developing drugs to FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) standards.
In what ways is Alvit looking to expand its product offering?
Alvit has been looking at the rest of the world and trying to pinpoint where the next big cannabis revolution will happen. A lot of activity is already happening in Canada, and a number of major players are operating there. In the US, the majority of states have legalised the use of cannabis for medical purposes, but it remains a prohibited substance at the federal level, so there isn’t a huge amount of opportunity there.
We believe Europe is the next big place for medical cannabis. What we’ve done is we’ve tried to build a kind of food chain whereby we can bring high-quality cannabis to Europe, because at the moment there are two challenges there:
- Products: There aren’t any products with which doctors are comfortable
- Pricing: Even flowers are extremely expensive.
To that end, we have received a licence in Malta that allows us to import medical cannabis from other countries, and produce, process, manufacture, export and distribute to the European market. We’re in the process of building a 120,000ft2 facility in the country that is, as far as I know, the only one in the world that is built for the purpose of EU GMP cannabis production. We are hopeful that this project will support Europe to meet its demand for medical cannabis.
When can we expect to see Alvit’s products in European pharmacies?
Our flowers and oils, grown and extracted in our Malta facility under EU GMP conditions, will be in EU pharmacies by the end of 2019, and our pharma grade cannabis products will follow in early 2020. We’re beginning a pre-sale campaign for our flowers in April.
Why is it that Israel has such a strong reputation in medical cannabis?
To begin with, THC and CBD were first synthesised in Israel by organic chemist and medicinal chemistry professor Raphael Mechoulam. Cannabis also falls perfectly into Israel’s comfort zone. Israel is not known for mass production; it’s known for agritech, biotech, technology, and innovation and sophistication in its products.
On top of that, the body within the health department that is responsible for granting cannabis licences is a very professional body, and Israel has the right manpower to deal with innovation in a new market. When you add all that together, that makes for a very strong foundation on which to succeed.
Something else I should mention is CannaTech, which is widely considered the most important event in cannabis. This is an industry event created by and for people in the industry, and it’s held every year in Israel. That creates a very strong network of people, all of whom are sharing expertise, exchanging ideas and swapping experiences, ultimately generating the kind of energy needed to drive cannabis momentum.
What’s next on the agenda for Alvit?
The facility I mentioned in Malta is currently being constructed and should be ready in roughly seven months. We have an agreement with a major company in Israel to begin producing our products in the country, and we’ve signed similar contracts in Portugal and Thailand.
Our focus in international; we’re always looking for the next place our products could help.
Please note, this article will appear in issue 9 of Health Europa Quarterly, which will be available to read in April 2019.