Portugal-based cannabis producer Symtomax deploys industry experience and genetic expertise to deliver high-quality, market-leading products.
Symtomax has been granted approval by INFARMED, the Portuguese regulatory authority for the pharmaceutical industry in Portugal. This approval allows Symtomax to cultivate, import and export GACP quality dried flower, produced from their site in Portugal.
For Symtomax, the focus is very simple: we want to become a vertically integrated seed-to-sale provider, producing a medical product to bring to market which can compete with pharmaceuticals, opioids, and the various other products currently available.
We have a 105-hectare site in Beja, Portugal, of which 95 hectares have been approved for the cultivation of medical cannabis. We have built a fully equipped 4,000m2 greenhouse facility; and we intend to produce a small crop every six weeks throughout the year. Not only does this generate an income for the company, and this will allow us to supply product all year round to the market – the biggest challenge currently facing cannabis companies across Europe is the lack of products.
We have built a strong team of expert producers and spent a long time putting this model together, resulting in something that no other company apart from Tilray has in Portugal: whereby other producers have separate facilities for cultivation and production in different locations. Having the cultivation site, and the production and extraction facility in separate locations, introduces elements of risk when it comes to harvesting and transporting crops between sites.
We have mitigated these risks and reduced production costs, by having our cultivation space and our production facility on the same site in Beja. We have also ensured to have our 2,650m2 production facility designed by one of the most recognised companies in the cannabis industry with significant experience in extraction and innovative drying rooms.
Since 2017, Symtomax has developed the Oral Tab product which is an alternative delivery system for CBD. Rather than the drops and pills which are currently on the market, our Oral Tab is a dissolvable patch, which is placed on the user’s tongue and dissolves directly into the bloodstream. This offers substantially higher bioavailability of the API than other delivery methods – where edibles only offer 20% absorption and vaping offers 46%, the Oral Tabs deliver absorption of up to 77%. Within the next 12 months we will be able to produce the Oral Tabs entirely in-house, within the scope of EU Good Manufacturing Practice (EU-GMP) guidelines.
Growing the European market
The Portuguese climate is much like that of California and offers a long outdoor season, which means that it is particularly beneficial for our crops. In addition to the weather, we are located close to one of the largest water reservoirs in Europe, which is important because cannabis plants require a great deal of water in order to thrive. Portugal has always had a pragmatic approach to drugs – it became the first country in the world to decriminalise the possession and use of all illegal drugs in 2001 and legalised cannabis for medical use in 2018; and lawmakers are now in discussion over whether to legalise adult use cannabis as well. If this is done correctly, and if the Portuguese market continues to be successful, it will be a leader within the European cannabis space.
Other companies are now moving and expanding into Europe, and specifically into Portugal; and we want strive to be ahead of the game. We have signed offtake agreements with companies within Europe as well as different parts of the world. While it is of course beneficial to us to be profitable and to keep our investors happy, more importantly, we strongly believe in being able to create a big impact on the pharmaceutical industry across Europe.
While the European cannabis market is by no means as mature as the North American markets, the German market has progressed extremely well in flower sales; France has the potential to become the biggest market in Europe; and we have plans to take Symtomax from being a single jurisdiction facility to operating in multiple jurisdictions. Each European jurisdiction has quotas or restrictions on the import and export of cannabis, so expanding into multiple jurisdictions – potentially France or Spain – should allow us to meet the demands of the market.
Co-operation and collaboration
The future for smaller cannabis companies in Europe, as we see it, is working together, not working against each other. The European medical cannabis industry is very much in its infancy; and working together with regulators and with other companies, can only be good for this industry as a whole in Europe. This is not even so much a matter of challenging the larger companies, it is more about the fact that the cannabis industry is now irrefutably here in Europe; and the best way to develop that industry from its infancy, and to bring medical cannabis into the mainstream, is for the smaller companies to work en masse in partnership with each other.
With regards to public companies in this space, the reality is that this industry is likely to progress in much the same way as the tech industry – within the next five years, there will probably only be two or three big public companies remaining. For us, as private companies in this space, we need to stick together and work alongside the regulators to build a healthy, profitable, well-governed market. If it is done correctly, this will be a very interesting sector to watch as it rolls out across Europe in the next few years.
Quality, stability, variety
We have a number of different genetic strains to meet varying consumer needs: these include a 1:1 ratio of 8% CBD and 8% THC, as well as strains containing 14%, 17% and more than 20% THC. Because we are in a microclimate, we need to observe the cultivation process in order to see which strains develop best in these conditions – and we also plan to select specific phenotypes within those strains to optimise the stability of the plant’s genetics.
It is advisable to have a variety of genetic strains of cannabis available on the market: if a patient uses cannabis on a daily basis and they always consume the same strain, they will begin to build up a tolerance to it, meaning that they need to use more and more to have the same effect. By contrast, when a patient begins using a new or different strain, its effect will be stronger. It is beneficial for users to switch the strain they are consuming every so often, in order to prevent their tolerance from getting too high; and that is what we want to facilitate by offering a variety of strains, as well as different levels and ratios of CBD,THC, CBG, THCV, and CBN’s.
We are very proud of what we have achieved so far. The most important thing for us is bringing a quality, stable product to the market; and through the multiple genetics that we are cultivating, we believe that is something that we can offer.