UNB fills cannabis chair

Yang Qu, a biochemist, has been hired as the Cannabis Health Research Chair at the University of New Brunswick. He has a background in studying anti-cancer drugs derived from plants, such as Madagascar’s periwinkle. He will begin his position on Jan. 1, 2019.

Two areas of research Qu plans to look into during his five-year position is the medical capacity of cannabis and how greenhouse growing can optimize the cost of production.

“Besides CBD and THC, there are more than 90 other cannabinoids in the plant and their medicinal value hasn’t been seriously studied,” said Qu.

He said the cannabis plant has not been studied as thoroughly as other major crops in terms of breeding. According to him, research chairs have a role to play in this.

“Because the industry is booming, I think science has to provide a solution for the long-term sustainability and profitability for the industry.”

New Brunswick is breaking new ground through the creation of two cannabis research chairs, one at St. Thomas University and one at UNB – the first campuses to do so in Canada. Though the campuses plan to collaborate on research, the hiring has been done independently, as both are seeking separate academics with different research focuses.

Both universities are receiving $1 million in funding over five years through New Brunswick Health Research Foundation. St. Thomas is also getting funding by Shoppers Drug Mart, who was recently licensed by Health Canada to sell medical marijuana to customers. UNB partnered with Tetra Bio-Pharma, a biopharmaceutical company focused on cannabinoid-based medicine.

Where’s STU’s research chair? 

Kim Fenwick, vice-president of academic research at STU, said the hiring committee hopes to have a candidate in place for July 1, 2019.

The hiring process began in the fall of 2017. The position will be valid for five years and has a tenure-track, meaning an opportunity for the candidate to have a permanent placement at the university. Research will be in the area of the social impacts of marijuana, specifically how it affects social determinants of health.

St. Thomas is on track to have a shortlist of candidates by December or January. Fenwick didn’t comment on how many candidates there would be.

“I think the main reason it has been so difficult to hire in this position is that very few academics are conducting research on the social impact of the legalization,” she said.

She said although cannabis is legal in other countries, applications have come mostly from North America. Over the next few years, she suspects to see more academics researching cannabis.

“We want to show that we are doing a lot of ground-breaking research of interest to the public, and that will influence public policy.”

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