Ease Labs, a Brazilian company that imports and develops locally cannabis Sativa-based medicines, announced today that it has raised BRL 12 million in a round led by MadFish, the investment fund of Brazilian tennis player Bruno Soares. The funding comes at a key moment for the company, which is getting ready to launch the first drugs manufactured locally, after obtaining Anvisa certification to develop the products within the country and rolling out an aggressive distribution, sales, and marketing strategy with the medical community.
Founded in 2018 by Gustavo Palhares and Guilherme Franco, Ease Labs started by importing and distributing cannabis-based products, aware of a growing demand that, at the time, was difficult to meet due to Brazilian legislation – Brazil legalized medical cannabis in 2015, but only for importation on an exceptional basis, that is, in specific cases.
“The import process was extremely bureaucratic, costs were high, delivery was delayed. We started structuring a business model to tackle these issues, with a headquarter in Uruguay, and from there the products were sent here,” Palhares told LABS in an interview.
READ ALSO: Special Report – Cannabis in Latin America: “It’s Complicated.”
A change in legislation in 2019 (Anvisa’s RDC 327) legalized the local sale and manufacture of cannabis-based medicinal products, although the raw material, inputs rich in cannabinoids such as CBD and THC, still have to be imported. RDC 327 also set the regulatory framework for cannabis-derived medicines according to the same strict pharmaceutical standards applied to any other drug, a clear advance for the medical marijuana market.
Palhares recalled that in this period, keeping up with the regulatory comings and goings was crucial to positioning the company. “We dived into the cannabis market and the regulatory trends that were happening in other countries, and we also studied our regulatory body a lot. We followed the discussions at Anvisa and understood that there was a more robust regulation underway that would allow the production and sale of these drugs in the country. We saw this and anticipated the acquisition of the pharmaceutical company. It worked out very well.”
READ ALSO: A new Brazilian clinical trial aims to find out whether medical cannabis can effectively treat the symptoms of “long-haul COVID”
With the pharmaceutical company, Ease Labs started to structure the operation to produce its own cannabis-based drugs in the country, importing the raw materials from companies in the United States, Colombia, Italy, and Israel. The first major victory of this new phase happened in January when Anvisa approved the first medicine in the portfolio, the Extract of Cannabis sativa from Ease Labs. So far, only 11 products made in the country have been authorized by the regulatory body.
Ease Labs has two other products undergoing authorization and five more being developed. Palhares explained that the idea is to build a diversified portfolio at affordable prices aimed at the areas of psychiatry, neurology, pain medicine, and sports medicine.
“We have a planned portfolio of eight products currently. But we can reach 40 cannabis-based products,” said Palhares. In addition to the products developed in-house, Ease Labs maintains its import and distribution operations.
READ ALSO: After a century of prohibition, Mexico decriminalizes recreational cannabis
According to Statista data, the value of the medical marijuana market in Brazil may exceed $228 million by 2028. Ease Labs knows this potential: the company projects revenue of BRL 240 million in the next three years and reaches a potential market of 59 million people.
To achieve this, Palhares bets on a multidisciplinary strategy of sales, distribution, marketing, and, mainly, expanding the prescriber base – currently, the company serves about 2,000 patients and works with 600 doctors.
“At this moment of transition from outsourced production to in-house production, with large scale distribution, we are investing massively to increase our prescriber base. We know that without the doctors we won’t be able to reach our growth objectives, so we are working hard on education, information, and marketing with the medical community and the patients.”
READ ALSO: Colombia authorizes the export of dried cannabis flowers for medicinal purposes
For Soares, Ease Labs holds the potential to be a global player in the medical cannabis market. As a medical cannabis enthusiast, he said he decided to invest in the business based on his own experience with the product.
A top professional tennis player, Soares has built a long and solid career on the tennis courts and has been using CBD-based products for several years to treat inflammation and muscle recovery after sports activities. From personal experience came the interest to invest and contribute to the development of a more natural and innovative pharmaceutical industry.
“I have seen many athletes using many synthetic drugs and experiencing all kinds of collateral effects. I believe in a more natural approach to health care. Ease Labs not only promotes this concept but has developed over these years a unique pharmaceutical and regulatory know-how and an innovative business model,” he said.