Farmako, a Frankfurt-based pharmaceutical startup company, has discovered a new way to produce cannabinoid using genetically modified bacteria that convert sugar into the active ingredients of the cannabis plant. Farmako applied to the European Patent Office for a patent in February, the company announced.

According to spokesman Victoria Schneider, the company aims to respond to the rapidly growing demand for cannabinoids for medical use. Founder and CEO Niklas Kouparanis (29) speaks of a “revolution” within the pharmaceutical industry. The active ingredients in cannabis such as THC and cannabidiol (CBD) are currently almost exclusively extracted from the flowers of weed plants. However, several universities and companies are trying to synthetically produce the medically active ingredients of the plant. Farmako is among the first to succeed in this.

The Farmako-team

They are not the first ones, though. Two American companies managed to produce cannabinoids with the help of brewer’s yeast. But according to molecular biologist and Farmako co-founder Patrick Schmitt (26) this technique is expensive and difficult to convert into industrial production. With the Farmako bacteria this should be a lot easier.

BRINGING MALARIA INTO THE MIX

The bacterium Farmako uses is also known as the “tequila bacterium” because it is used in the production of the famous Mexican alcoholic drink. The official name is zymomonas mobilis. Farmako has genetically modified this bacterium by adding genes from the malaria parasite and removing other pieces of genetic material.

According to spokesman Schneider, the potential possibilities are enormous. In Europe there are several countries that have legalised pharmaceutical cannabis, including Germany, Denmark and Great Britain. Canada has a market of €30 billion. Consultant Prohibition Partners estimates that, for Europe, the market will have grown to €58 billion by 2028. According to Schneider, customers will also benefit. The costs of medical cannabis will be reduced, while the supply will be increased, she says.

Farmako is only a year old and employs nearly 40 people. The company is aiming to start producing synthetic cannabis in the second half of this year. The company further profits from “regular” trade in medical cannabis, such as CBD oil. Their aim is to become a European market leader. Earlier this month they made a deal with the Polish company Pharmacann to import 50 tons of marijuana flowers and weed oil over a period of four years. German pharmacies are currently still importing a large number of cannabis pharmaceuticals from the Netherlands and Canada.

Besides Kouparinis and Schmitt, Sebastian Diemer is involved in the company as a financer. Diemer is a well-known member of the Berlin startup community, having several startups to his name and living an exuberant lifestyle. He reportedly sold one of the companies he founded, Kreditech, for several millions.