Israeli start-up develops first medical marijuana inhaler

An image supplied by Syqe Medical shows how its inhaler for medical marijuana is assembled.

MONTREAL — The day may soon come when those prescribed medical marijuana will not have to roll and smoke a joint to obtain its benefits. 

A palm-sized inhaler has been developed by Israeli entrepreneur Perry Davidson that delivers a metered dose of marijuana’s medicinal components. He says this method is more effective clinically and eliminates the high associated with cigarette inhaling.

Davidson, founder and CEO of the startup Syqe Medical, told participants at a daylong conference April 30 on Israel’s booming high-tech sector, that the device is the first of its kind in the world.

Manufactured by 3D printing, the inhaler is backed by the Israeli government and recently received regulatory approval. In a few weeks, Haifa’s Rambam Hospital will test it. Eventually, a version for home use is to be available.

Some 20,000 Israelis take doctor-prescribed marijuana, or cannabis, for pain relief and other conditions. The country’s has one of the most progressive attitudes in the world toward the medical use of the drug. 

Davidson says that is largely due to the discovery of the plant’s principal psychoactive ingredient, THC, by an Israeli, pharmacologist Raphael Mechoulam of Hebrew University, in 1963.

Syqe packages tiny granules of the raw, unadulterated plant into pre-loaded cartridges which are vaporized in the device.

Davidson claims the inhaler is not only more convenient and offers greater control, but the results are more rapid and more predictable than smoking or other current delivery methods. “It has a precision comparable to an asthma inhaler,” he said.

The chairman of Syqe’s board is Dr. Eytan Hyam, former director of the Israeli health ministry.

Syqe was founded in 2011 with a $4.65-million (US) investment, but the company is looking for millions more to crack the global market.

Syqe has caught the eye of OurCrowd, which calls itself the world’s largest equity crowdfunding platform, said Scott Dubin, director of investor relations. 

Syqe is among the 67 carefully selected companies, mainly Israeli high-tech startups, in OurCrowd’s portfolio. Israel-based OurCrowd has over 8,000 investors around the world, and has invested $120 million (US). Its approach is a new twist on venture capitalism that offers those buying in a share of the profit if a company goes public or is sold.

Founded two years ago, Israel-based OurCrowd’s American-born CEO Jon Medved announced in March that the company will open an office in Toronto within the year. 

The chair of OurCrowd’s medical advisory board is a former Torontonian, Morry Blumenfeld, who was with GE for 34 years and is an authority on medical devices.

The conference, sponsored by the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, was on the theme “Israel’s High Tech Miracle and Canada: Innovation for Humanity.” It was attended by about 120 participants from the business, academic and government worlds, as well as general public.

Keynote speaker Itzhak Ben Israel, chair of Israel’s National Council for Research and Development and of the Israel Space Agency, said the approximately $10 billion a year (US) that goes into R&D is a prime factor in the Israeli “miracle.” Eighty per cent of that money is contributed by the business sector, and 80 per cent of that is foreign, he added.

Venture capital invested in Israel annually equals that in all of Europe, he said.

Development of cyber-security technology is being targeted by the Israeli government, he said, as computers become ubiquitous in phones, cars, household appliances and other areas of everyday life.

Israel is quickly becoming a leader in this field, and already had a 10 per cent share of the global market for cyber-security-related products and services in 2014, he said.

The lunchtime guest speaker, Israeli ambassador Rafael Barak, said he hopes BlackBerry’s announcement in April of its acquisition of an Israeli R&D centre will blaze a trail for other big Canadian companies.

The Waterloo, Ont.-based device maker bought the Israeli security startup for a reported $100 million (US).

Prior to that, Barak said there were no Canadian companies among the approximately 350 foreign subsidiaries in Israel, which include nearly all major U.S. tech companies, as well as others like Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola.

The answer is partly due to a much smaller economy and the fact that 70 per cent of large Canadian enterprises have U.S. affiliations, he said, but that still leaves out a significant number.

Canada-Israel trade is also only “so-so,” in his estimation, about $1.3 billion (US) a year, roughly $700 million of that from Israel to Canada.

Barak hinted that bilateral relations may soon become more attractive with a revamping of the 1997 Canada-Israel free trade agreement “in the near future.”

In response to a question, the ambassador said the best way to deal with the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel is to foster economic and academic co-operation.

“Be intelligent, and don’t confront [BDS],” he said. “Don’t give it an importance it doesn’t have…That’s the best answer.

“We do not have to be afraid. First of all, we are right in what we are doing. We have nothing to hide, we are an open country.”