Cannabis culture: Cronos buys 102,000 L microbial plant from Apotex

The facility in Winnipeg, Canada will be used to produce cell cultured cannabinoids through its collaboration with Ginkgo Bioworks, says Cronos Group.

Cannabinoid company Cronos Group has agreed to buy Apotex Fermentation Inc’s 84,000 square-foot biomanufacturing factory in Winnipeg for an undisclosed fee. If the deal closes – expected in Q3 – it will bring Cronos a facility with a combined production capacity of 102,000L, three downstream processing plants, and bulk product and packaging capabilities.

The site will support manufacturing services for Cronos’ lab-grown cannabis partnership with Ginko Bioworks, inked in September 2018.

Cannabinoid firm Cronos will buy a plant in Winnipeg from Apotex. Image: iStock/OlegMalyshev

The collaboration aims to treat the burgeoning cannabis market as a technology by growing cannabinoids in systems traditionally used by biotech and is already using the Sartorius ambr250 mL single-use bioreactor system to determine the optimal conditions for growth and titer.

The Winnipeg plant will allow large-scale production by “bringing innovation and the power of biological manufacturing to the cannabis industry,” said Mike Gorenstein, CEO of Cronos Group. It will also bring greater efficiency to production than is currently possible with traditional cultivation and extraction.

According to Apotex, the first fermentation train includes three 14,000L production fermenters supported by 19 L, 50 L & 1,500 L seed fermenters and 3,750 L nutrient feed vessels. The second fermentation train includes two 30,000 L production fermenters supported by 30 L, 300 L and 3,000 L seed fermenters and 5,000 L nutrient feed vessels.

Cultured cannabinoids

“Cultured cannabinoid molecules are identical to those extracted from the plants grown with traditional methods but are created by leveraging the power of biological manufacturing via fermentation,” a Cronos spokesperson told Bioprocess Insider.

The process to develop cultured cannabinoids is being led by Ginkgo, we were told and “Ginkgo is transferring the DNA sequences for cannabinoid production into yeast, to develop strains that produce cultured cannabinoids at high quality and purity in a process similar to brewing beer in a microbrewery.

“In addition to allowing for the efficient and scalable production of cannabinoids, the use of Ginkgo’s platform is expected to unlock access to potentially medically-important and valuable cannabinoids that are present only in low quantities in the plant, making them economically impractical, difficult or impossible to extract at high purity and scale from grown / farmed cannabis plants.”

Like biologics, the cost of production is an important factor in the development of cannabinoids.

“The Company expects that the development of cultured cannabinoids through Ginkgo’s proprietary fermentation process will allow for cannabinoid production at large scale and with greater efficiency, consistency and quality than is currently possible with traditional cultivation and extraction.”

Related reading: Pluristem looks to cell cultured cannabinoids