New Zealand has huge capabilities in growing plants for medicine for the soaring pharmaceutical and consumer health industry, a defining new biotech economic study report says.
The landmark BioTechNZ study analysed the state of biotechnology and its impact and benefits for the New Zealand economy and society.
New Zealand coupled with its wealth of knowledge in the primary sector and its distinctive growing conditions, it often results in an increased amount of high value active ingredients which are of huge benefit for the health sector.
Medicinal cannabis is projected to be worth $US97 billion by 2026 and is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 33%.
Following a law change, a medicinal cannabis scheme came into effect on April 1 this year which enables licensed businesses and individuals to cultivate, manufacture, supply and export medicinal cannabis products in New Zealand.
BioTechNZ executive director Dr Zahra Champion says they "anticipate the New Zealand market for medicinal cannabis will move more quickly than other international medicinal cannabis markets".
Increasingly, consumers are demanding ethically focused products with the least waste or environmental impact. This is creating new markets for biotechnology that can help reduce waste or create value from waste.
"Our research has identified a number of barriers that need to be overcome to enable the growth of the New Zealand biotechnology market," Dr Champion says.
"The current regulatory framework governing genetic modified organisms (GMO) is a major barrier to growth for the New Zealand biotechnology sector.
"We also need to develop a specialist biotech fund to attract international biotech investors and companies that are used to larger, longer term investments associated with biotechnology.
"As of now we need to drive change in New Zealand’s approach to understanding of genetic modification and review regulations relating to biotechnology and genetics. The science of genetics has developed considerably since our regulations were put in place and they don’t recognise the multitude of new technologies that exist to modify genetic material so our regulation is a bit like a hammer when we might be better off with a selection of chisels."
Modern biotechnology also includes selective breeding in plants and animals for particular traits through DNA profiling, to produce plants resistant to insects and livestock with better meat or wool quality.
It can also include the identification of microorganisms that can clean up pollution in soil, air or water or the development of medications that selectively target diseases or cancer cells.
The report says as the pace of population growth and climate change has accelerated, biotechnology has been identified as a critical technology.
Its wide application illustrates how a country’s success may depend to a large extent on the national capabilities in mastering production and innovation in these crucial areas.
BioTechNZ are event organisers of MedCan, New Zealand's first medicinal cannabis summit, held this month at Auckland's Aotea Centre. Helius Therapeutics is the foundation sponsor.