Employees: about 60
Products: Cannabis flower and extracts, pharmaceutical R&D
Founder and CEO Dr. Malik Hasan sees limitless potential for cannabinoid-based pharmaceuticals.
Hasan, who made a national mark in the HMO industry as CEO of Qual-Med in the 1980s and '90s, knows the business of healthcare. A neurologist by trade, he came around on cannabis in 2006, after initially dismissing its medical value. But now he's a true believer: He says anecdotal evidence points to the efficacy of cannabis with more than 60 disorders, including anxiety, PTSD, migraines, glaucoma, Alzheimer's, and epilepsy.
"There are 545 active biological molecules in cannabis," says Hasan. "In penicillin, there is only one active molecule."
But there's a disconnect between identifying the 545 active molecules in cannabis and knowing their effects. "You don't know which molecule is efficacious with each disorder," says Hasan. "The problem is it's an embarrassment of riches. Where do you start?"
NuVue's answer is breeding "pharmaceutical-grade cannabis" that's notably consistent in composition. Then and only then can NuVue proceed with clinical trials for cannabinoids. "A major problem with cannabis was the inconsistency of the product," says Hasan. "In order to do sustained research, you need consistent product."
NuVue technicians extract cannabinoids with state-of-the-art distillation technology. "You can break it down to 30 to 40 molecules per distillate," explains Hasan. "It's very complex technology."
Leading up to eventual human trials, Hasan helped launch the Institute of Cannabis Research (ICR) at CSU-Pueblo with support from Pueblo County and the State of Colorado in 2016. "Twenty-two existing faculty members are already working on cannabis research," he says, noting that animals are the subjects of current experiments. "They [researchers] are hamstrung by the legalities" -- meaning the studies are currently focused on hemp that's rich in CBD, not THC. "They will have to be repeated with the addition of THC."
Hasan donated $150,000 to help get the institute off the ground. The State of Colorado awarded $900,000 in grants to ICR in 2017 and another $1.8 million in 2018. Some research has been submitted for publication. "These are drops in the ocean," says Hasan. "At some point, we'll have to get a grant from NIH [National Institutes of Health]."
If NuVue is able to procure a "multi-year, multi-million-dollar" federal grant, the company will be positioned to move forward with human clinical trials on isolated molecules.
But there's a big roadblock: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has tabled a 2016 proposal to allow more facilities to grow cannabis for federally-approved research. "He hasn't rejected it," says Hasan. "He hasn't approved it."
Until the Department of Justice makes a move on the proposal, Hasan says NuVue will strive to grow better cannabis and produce better extracts, and early results are good. The company won several awards at The Grow-Off in 2017 as it markets its extracts under the Rocky Mountain Extracts brand. "We have a sales force with three salespeople," says Hasan of the latter.
NuVue opened a medical dispensary in Pueblo in 2016 and expanded into the recreational market in 2017. "The growth in the recreational is very striking," says Hasan. "Medical is more or less steady."
But it's really all about setting the stage for future research, he adds. "We're working hand in glove with the university," says Hasan. "When it becomes clinical studies, we will move it to NuVue."
He's quick to point out that smallpox vaccine and penicillin were discovered via observation long before a double-blind study validated their medical efficacy. "We have a multitude of similar observations with marijuana," says Hasan. "There's a lot of information. You just have to validate it."
Malaria treatment is another example. "A shaman would give [patients] extract of bark and they'd be cured," says Hasan. "That's how they isolated quinine."
He adds, "Major advancements come through observation. We already know it works works with epilepsy. We also know it works with pain."
Challenges: Federal policy. "Until the government gets involved, very little happens," says Hasan. "Look at the Internet. Look at GPS."
He notes that Google and Apple got started with the help of federal grants. "Tesla's the same story. Cisco is the same story. Government is the driving engine of innovation in this country."
Adds Hasan: "Once Jeff Sessions moves, we should make very rapid progress."
Opportunities: Providing a solution to the opioid crisis. "Cannabis has been shown to help with opioids," says Hasan. "In 3,000 years of history, nobody has died from an overdose of cannabis, not one person. It is safe. Now we have thousands of deaths per year from opioid overdoses."
Needs: Beyond the federal stamp of approval, Hasan says he needs very little, noting he "cut no corners" building NuVue's facility in Pueblo. "We basically adopted all of the best practices," he says.
He thinks Colorado can maintain its leadership position as the cannabis industry matures. "Colorado as a whole is ahead of California, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska," he says.