Ehud Olmert sits on the board of Univo, a Medical-grade Cannabis start-up from Israel that recently raised some 30 million in funding to bring Hemp to the masses. I had the chance to briefly interview Ehud and his business partner Golan, who has 22 years of managerial experience in the Israeli Ministry of Defence. Golan Bitton’s introduction at the European CBD Expo in London reads as follows:
“Golan is probably different from most CEOs that you’ve met so far. Picture the commando soldier from Netflix’s hit ‘Fauda’, now running a cannabis company and you’ve got Golan Bitton. He spent more than 20 years working as a special forces soldier in the Israeli army, as part of the country’s Defence Ministry. In 2016, he recognised Israel’s potential in the field of medical marijuana and founded Univo, the public Israeli company that controls the full medical cannabis supply chain. In just three years, Univo’s team is already comprised of industry leaders coming from prestigious companies such as TEVA, and Perrigo. Univo recently announced that Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has joined the company’s advisory board. Univo holds all the required licenses to be the one-stop-shop for medical grade cannabis products from seed to market. The company grows high-quality cannabis and develops diverse medical cannabis products to solve health problems naturally using advanced technologies and unique genetics of medical cannabis strains. Univo is currently developing soothing oil drops that help combat ADHD, and creams that alleviate skin allergies.”
With many users getting stopped at European borders, why does medical cannabis still suffer from stigma, and how receptive have you found the medical establishment?
EO: If Medical cannabis does have an image problem it is becoming less so, as people become more educated about it. The establishment has been receptive because of the research and evidence that we are able to show.
Are there any concerning risks, side effects or interactions?
EO: This is person dependent but one of the main interests with regards to medical cannabis is that it seems to be lower in side effects than some prescription medications. It is also showing a lot of potential in areas such as autism. Israel is leading the way for such research, boasting one of the largest databases with over 6 years worth of studies.
What is your view on over the counter brands and commercial use?
EO: It is still a new and emerging field with no hard conclusions. We may see that it works in some cases but it is difficult to pinpoint mechanisms and individual molecules, more regulation is needed.
Univo is currently targeting ailments such as ADHD and skin lesions, are there other areas that you are working on? And what promise does it hold here?
EO: Mainstream pharmaceuticals need responsibility and reliability. The research is not strong enough to suggest curative potential right now, so we are only focusing on treating conditions like pain and lesions symptomatically.
René Favaloro was a surgeon who pioneered the coronary artery bypass procedure, but at age 77, left a suicide note claiming he felt like Don Quixote in the fight against a monstrously corrupt healthcare system. What are your thoughts on this?
EO: I cannot comment on the views and actions of one individual. We don’t know the real reasons why he may have died or killed himself – his mental state and circumstances at the time. All I can say is that Israel has one of the best Healthcare systems in the world and an excellent minister of health. Our system is one of the most fair and honest to exist.
Univo also deals with distribution, is Blockchain and Cannabis-focused Blockchain something that you are looking into?
GB: Absolutely not. It will never be allowed to scale.
Why is it that Israel seems ahead of the curve when it comes to medical cannabis?
EO: Our healthcare system, our laws and our culture. The laws in Israel have enabled us to carry out such research and to take it global. At Univo we are able to have our own laboratories and farms.
Are you currently investigating any other plant medicines with potential therapeutic benefit?
EO: Not at present no.
What is next for Univo?
EO: In the future we hope to have new developments such as patents for our products targeting skin lesions and haemorrhoids, to grow our supply of high quality Hemp, and improve packaging and extraction.
With the pill-popping culture that we have, are you looking into any holistic modes of application, especially for areas such as PTSD or chronic pain?
Right now we are just working at the baseline. We need reliable medications with suitable modes of application that look at dose and measurement. This is just the beginning for the Cannabis Industry, and although the War on Drugs has caused much harm to both public health and perception over the years, I hope that the growth and adoption of the therapeutic benefits of such plants, will pave the way for new paradigms in healthcare.