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Rua Bioscience: Sowing the seeds to success in the medicinal cannabis industry

This article was published on May 18, 2023, 2:42 PM

Reading time: 4 minutes

It’s a new industry but producing cannabis-derived medicines has been years in the making for Rua Bioscience. And it’s those former years where Callaghan Innovation has been crucial in helping them get production ready.

What's in this article

    At a glance

    • Before gaining one of the first commercial licences in New Zealand to grow and supply cannabis-derived medicines, Rua Bioscience spent years investing in R&D projects and developing their facilities.  
    • Callaghan Innovation’s Research and Development Solutions Team offered expertise and equipment along the way, helping Rua Bioscience with CO₂ extraction especially, a crucial part in the production process.
    • A listing on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, a deal with a major international wholesale distributor, and Rua Bioscience are on their way to local and international success.

    TA startup business in a startup industry

    From a small New Zealand town called Ruatorea to the world, pharmaceutical company Rua Bioscience wants to take medicinal cannabis products global.

    Rua Bioscience was one of the first businesses to gain a commercial licence to grow and supply cannabis-derived medicines when New Zealand’s Medicinal Cannabis Scheme came into effect in 2020. This was the green light to start production after having already spent more than $6 million developing different facilities, such as a breeding and cultivation centre and an extraction plant.   

    “We work with a lot of startup businesses, but in the medicinal cannabis space these are startup businesses in a startup industry. If you go back five years, no one knew where the regulation was heading in this industry, so Rua [Bioscience] has had to do a lot of work to stay at the forefront,” Tanya Wilson, business and relationship manager in the Māori Economy Team at Callaghan Innovation says.

    Rua Bioscience - Customer Spotlight

    [Rob Mitchell]

    Rua Bioscience launched in 2016, we produce cannabinoid-derived medicines for both local and export markets. We have a state-of-the-art facility in

    Ruatoria that's a breeding and cultivation facility, and here in Gisborne we have a manufacturing and extraction facility as well as an analytical lab.

    We listed on October 2020 on the New Zealand Stock Exchange. The IPO enabled us to raise 20 million in funds that's going to provide us with the

    opportunity to develop further as a company and fund that next stage of growth.

    [Manu Caddie]

    One of the keys to future growth for Rua Bioscience is our commitment to R&D, Callaghan Innovation has been really core to that development.

    [Tanya Wilson]

    Rua Bioscience has been accessing Callaghan Innovation's Research and Development Solutions capability and expertise, through our amazing scientists that we have here on site, especially our CO2 extraction team. CO2 extraction technology is the ability to be able to extract pharmaceutical quality bioactives from a range of different plants.

    [Rob Mitchell]

    It allowed us to access a CO2 pilot plant where we could do our own R&D and understand the technology before making a significant investment in our own CO2 extraction machinery. The support enabled Rua Bioscience to select a system that would be suitable for the GMP requirements. GMP is the good manufacturing practice so that we could go ahead with our initial manufacturing.

    [Manu Caddie]

    We created the company to provide affordable effective medicines for people around the world and we wanted to create employment opportunities for people here in Tairāwhiti, on the East Coast of New Zealand.

    [Rob Mitchell]

    We've already signed a deal with Nimbus Health, a leading German pharmaceutical wholesaler and distributor. We hope in five to ten years' time that we're a global pharmaceutical company supplying product all over the world.

    Staying at the forefront before even launching

    Set up in 2016, Rua Bioscience has accessed support from Callaghan Innovation in a number of ways. A key part has been using our Research and Development Solutions’ equipment, capability and expertise in CO₂ extraction – a technology used to extract pharmaceutical-quality oil from cannabis plants. 

    “Callaghan Innovation’s Research and Development Solutions team, including extraction engineers based at Gracefield, provided critical advice and connections with CO₂ extraction experts early in the system planning process. These support activities enabled Rua [Bioscience] to move ahead with plans and select a system that suited the GMP requirements and initial scale of production,” says Wilson.

    Callaghan Innovation has also provided different grants to Rua Bioscience to help with the large-scale investment needed for R&D projects. Research and development is the lifeblood of any pharmaceutical company, says chief executive Rob Mitchell, so the additional funding has been pivotal to enable investigation into plant discovery and breeding, cultivation, manufacturing, and product development.

    Engineer Amram Sebban operating Supercritical Fluid Extraction system at Rua Bioscience in Gisborne.

    Engineer Amram Sebban operating Supercritical Fluid Extraction system at Rua Bioscience in Gisborne.

    When playing the long game pays off

    Years of work supported by Callaghan Innovation and coupled with funding from the likes of their 2020 listing on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, means Rua Bioscience can progress their commercial strategy and advance their extensive R&D programme.

    Overseas success is already in the pipeline with the company inking a deal to supply pharmaceutical-grade cannabis flower to Nimbus Pharmaceuticals – one of the leading wholesale distributors of medicinal cannabis products in Germany. But, it has a clear focus on its local community also, helping in more ways than just medicine.

    “Rua Bioscience aims to create pharmaceutical products that help patients, but there’s also this whole other side to the business that’s creating jobs and opportunities and excitement in the region. To be part of that is pretty cool,” says Mitchell

    More than just a success for Rua Bioscience, in collaboration with the company, Callaghan Innovation has been able to create an industry capability roadmap. This is designed to help early-stage hemp and medicinal cannabis businesses identify what capabilities they will need to operate in different parts of the industry.

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