Frankfurt-based pharmaceutical startup company Farmako has discovered a new way to produce cannabinoid using genetically modified bacteria that convert sugar into the active substances of the cannabis plant. Farmako filed a patent for this with the European patent office in February, the company announced Wednesday.

According to spokesman Victoria Schneider, the company wants to respond to the rapidly growing demand for cannabinoids for medical use. Founder and CEO Niklas Kouparanis (29 years old) speaks of a “revolution” in the pharmaceutical industry. The active substances in cannabis such as THC and cannabidiol (CBD) are now almost exclusively extracted from the flowers of weed plants. However, there are several universities and companies that try to synthetically produce the medical active ingredients in the plant. Farmako was one of the first to succeed in this.

The Farmako team, with the well-known start-up entrepreneur Sebastian Diemer (third from the left)

They weren’t the very first. There are also two American companies that can produce cannabinoids using beer yeist. But according to molecular biologist and co-founder of Farmako Patrick Schmitt (26 years old), this technique is expensive and difficult to convert into industrial production. It is supposed to be a lot easier with the Farmako bacterium.

Cross breeding with malaria

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

According to spokesman Schneider, the potential possibilities are huge. In Europe there are several countries that have legalized pharmaceutical cannabis, including Germany, Denmark and Great Britain. Canada has a market of €30 billion. For Europe, the consultant Prohibition Partners estimates that the market has grown to €58 billion by 2028. According to Schneider, there are also benefits for customers. According to Schneider, the costs of medical cannabis can be reduced and the supply increased.

Farmako is only a year old and has almost 40 employees. The company plans to start producing synthetic cannabis in the second half of this year. The company also earns its money from the “normal” trade in medical cannabis, such as CBD oil. The aim is to become a European market leader. Earlier this month it concluded an agreement to this end with the Polish company Pharmacann for the import of 50 tons of marijuana flowers and weed oil spread over four years. German pharmacies still import many cannabis drugs from the Netherlands and Canada.

Besides Kouparinis and Schmitt, Sebastian Diemer is involved in the company as a financier. Diemer is a well-known member of the Berlin startup community with several startups to his name and to exuberant lifestyle. One of the companies he founded, Kreditech, he reportedly sold for several million euros.

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About the author

Author profile picture Maurits Kuypers graduated as a macroeconomist from the University of Amsterdam, specialising in international work. He has been active as a journalist since 1997, first for 10 years on the editorial staff of Het Financieele Dagblad in Amsterdam, then as a freelance correspondent in Berlin and Central Europe. When it comes to technological innovations, he always has an eye for the financial feasibility of a project.