Long before chemicals came to dominate medicine, plants were the common ingredient used to heal wounds and cure diseases. According to the U.S. Forestry Service, hundreds of indigenous plants have been used for medicinal purposes dating back to prehistory. No less an authority than Hippocrates — known as the “Father of Medicine” — classified herbs into their essential healing qualities and eventually identified up to 400 plant species as having medicinal uses.
Today, one advocate of returning to plant-based medicine is Ilan Sobel, CEO of BioHarvest Sciences, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based biotech firm. The company has developed a bio-cell growth platform technology that grows the active and beneficial ingredients in fruits and other plants at an industrial scale without the need to raise them itself.
“Pharma companies to date are lagging in delivering optimal solutions for patients suffering from medical indications … with their current toolbox of synthesized compounds,” Sobel told Forbes in a 2022 interview. “It’s time for Pharma companies to go back to their roots, and that means going back to the plant.”
BioHarvest has embraced medicine’s roots through its Bio-Plant CELLicitation technology, which allows the company to “take the essential active medicinal compounds found in a specifically targeted plant and grow them in plant cells in a way that also has the ability to increase key active ingredients,” Sobel said.
These ingredients include polyphenols, cannabinoids, and micronutrients that naturally occur in plants and help humans heal.
Photo Courtesy BioHarvest Sciences Inc.
“We can consistently grow in aseptic bioreactors an infinite supply of the critical active ingredients from identified plants while optimizing each one to deliver the maximum benefit with which nature, in its infinite wisdom, endowed it,” Sobel told Forbes. “What’s even better for the Pharma world is that these unique compositions of active compounds can be patented using our technology, so Pharma can protect and monetize these technical breakthroughs.”
On its website, BioHarvest describes itself as a company at the “nexus of several major trends,” including the following:
- An aging population and a global movement toward natural and plant-based solutions to health improvement.
- A rise in consumers demanding that companies be “responsible stewards of the environment” and prioritize Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) best practices.
- A willingness on the part of the industry to find new sources of “clean, consistent, and novel” health ingredients.
BioHarvest was founded in Israel in 2007 by Dr. Yochi Hagay and Dr. Zaki Rakib, who shared a vision to marry science with nature to improve human health. They began by developing Bio-Plant Cellicitation, a botanical synthesis platform technology.
Its flagship product, VINIA, is a dietary supplement that contains piceid resveratrol from red grape cells.
Photo Courtesy BioHarvest
According to a September 2023 press release, BioHarvest operates within two major business verticals: “nutraceutical health and wellness products, such as dietary supplements, and the development of plant cell-based Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) that focus on specific medical indications.”
Falling into the latter category are cannabis-based cannabinoids, which BioHarvest produces in bioreactors that Sobel said can “dramatically reduce” the water and land usage for plant growth.
“Unlike traditional cannabis production, our process involves zero heavy metals and zero solvents or fertilizer, so our wastewater is 100% biodegradable,” he told Forbes.
Photo Courtesy BioHarvest
BioHarvest has managed to turn its vision into a growing business. The company is now publicly listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange under the symbol “BHSC” and on the U.S. OTCQB Markets under “CNVCF.” In August 2023, VINIA’s monthly revenue passed the $1 million mark for the first time. “What makes this milestone so outstanding is that it is being achieved while improving marketing efficiency,” Sobel said in a statement. “This gives us a strong shot of confidence in the future to come as we prepare to bring additional products to market.”