The largest COVID-19 vaccine producer in the United States and second-largest in the world is primed to enter the cannabis industry after announcing a mega-acquisition of a biotech company known for its clinical trials of a drug targeting cannabinoid type 2 receptors.
Pfizer, the New York and Michigan-based multinational pharma giant, has signed a $6.7 billion agreement with California-based Arena Pharmaceuticals to take over Arena and its cannabinoid-based trial drug. Though the acquisition was announced earlier this month, a closer look at Arena’s portfolio reveals Pfizer’s potential to make a serious foray into cannabis when it completes the deal in the coming weeks.
Arena’s Olorinab (APD371) drug is an oral and full agonist of the cannabinoid type 2 receptor (CB2), which is designed to help patients suffering from stomach and intestine ailments. The compound is being researched for pain relief. It targets CB2 receptors instead of CB1 receptors and therefore does not produce psychoactive effects, according to Arena’s website.
Arena made Olorinab an integral part of its portfolio back in 2017 and since has enjoyed moderate success testing it in clinical trials. In a 2018 Phase 2a trial, designed to generate data on Olorinab’s short-term efficacy, safety and dosing, the drug was linked to pain reduction for patients suffering from Crohn’s Disease.
Olorinab remains an investigational drug, though, and has not yet been approved by any health authorities. Arena’s portfolio also includes other non-cannabinoid drugs, most of which target immuno-inflammatory and gastrointestinal diseases.
The publicly traded Pfizer has distributed 3 billion COVID-19 vaccines across the globe, and plans to produce an additional 4 billion vaccines in 2022. The U.S. company trails only China’s Sinovac for number of vaccines produced to date, but is likely to take over the top spot globally next year.
Pfizer’s foray into cannabis follows in the footsteps of several other major pharma companies in recent years.
Johnson & Johnson made Canadian cannabis research firm Avicanna a resident company at its Toronto-based JLabs back in 2017, then Swiss pharma giant Novartis acquired cannabis producer Tilray in 2018. Earlier this year, Ireland-based Jazz Pharmaceuticals completed its takeover of England’s GW Pharmaceuticals, which produces the only federally authorized CBD medicine in the U.S. for treating children with epileptic seizure disorders.