In a major move towards cannabis reform, it was announced last summer that two universities in Fredericton, New Brunswick, would be adding Cannabis Health Research Chairs to their respective campuses. But, the industry's infant status has presented challenges for both St. Thomas University and the University of New Brunswick (UNB) as they continue to search for the perfect candidates.
Hart Devitt, Director of Industry-Government Services—an office taking an advisory role in the selection of the UNB Chair, spoke with Civilized about where the selection process currently stands.
"It’s a matter of picking the best candidate for the position," he said. "The person will be a top-level academic, obviously, likely with a background in chemistry or chemical engineering. Starting from that very broad scope, we can begin to narrow our search based on who applies."
In the initial announcement, it was stated that the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation and Tetra Bio-Pharma Inc. would each be investing $500,000 CAD for a combined $1 million, to the universities over a five-year period. Money which Devitt said accounts for the researcher’s salary, as well as initial start-up costs.
Beyond this, he indicated that the University would be seeking more capital to put towards project costs and research aid.
"We want to do everything we can to make this a successful chair," he said. "So we’re going to be looking for additional funding from other sources as well, particularly some federal funding for post-doctorate and graduate students to provide assistance."
He expressed that at this time he would not like to speculate on the exact nature of the research before a candidate is selected. Speaking more broadly, however, he said that the research is likely to gather information surrounding what cannabis can and cannot accomplish, from a chemical perspective.
"The evidence that we are hoping to establish with this chair will be exactly what the medical establishment will be looking for in order to be more comfortable prescribing cannabis," he said.
It is clear that this role has the potential to make a great impact on the industry, and yet, the position remains unfilled at both universities. Devitt cites due diligence, along with an expanding scope of the selection committee's search for the right candidate as part of the long selection process.
"The preference for industrial research chairs is to hire a Canadian contact," he explained. "But now, because of the international aspects of this sector, the necessity is to hire someone who is not just the best in Canada, but the world."
In many ways, this broadening of their search is a reflection of Canada’s expanding role in the global stage for cannabis reform.
"At the moment, cannabis research in Canada is in a very good position, given the federal and provincial alignment," he said. "Because of the reduction in regulation surrounding research, I think this will allow research to take place in this country in a way that you are unlikely to see elsewhere."
Speaking specifically about the work and research being done in Atlantic Canada, Devitt said that he hopes to see a collaborative approach to research begin to take form, particularly with UNB’s neighbor campus St. Thomas. Like UNB, St. Thomas is still looking for the best candidate for their research chair, with the intention to tackle issues geared more towards the social impact of cannabis, rather than the chemical.
"Because UNB and St. Thomas are co-located, we’re hoping to take the two chairs, once they arrive, and create a real synergy between the both the sociological studies [taking place at St. Thomas], and the chemical engineering, pharmacological studies to be performed at UNB," he said.
While the search remains ongoing, the universities will continue to explore the potential of cannabis, both as an industry, as well as an area of research. Devitt, along with other research representatives from both campuses, recently attended the World Cannabis Congress in Saint John, where they looked forward to the networking opportunities.
"We’re looking forward to connecting with colleagues across the country and internationally" he said.