New Zealand Company Studying Cannabis Stunting Disease

A New Zealand medical cannabis company is studying a disease that affects cannabis plants in hopes of finding a way to combat it.

Auckland-based Helius Therapeutics today revealed that it is working closely with Plant & Food Research (PFR) to find ways to diagnose and manage Hop Latent Viroid (HLVd).

Studying Sick Sativas

HLVd is an “obscure international plant disease” that Helius says can stunt potency and yield in cannabis plants.

According to Helius, the Ministry of Primary Industries recently registered HLVd as a new plant pathogen in New Zealand to affect a medical cannabis research crop.

First characterized in 2019 in cannabis Sativa, Helius says that the discovery of HLVd, also known as dudding or stunting disease, in New Zealand is considered a positive for its fledgling cannabis industry.

Helius says that Cultivation Manager Ikaika Keli’iho’omalu was the first to notice HLVd in a research crop.

Keli’iho’omalu is a third-generation cannabis cultivator with experience in managing commercial grow sites around the world.

“HLVd has been prevalent throughout the United States, stunting yields as much as 40%, so when Kai recognised one of the crops wasn’t doing so well, we acted,” says Helius Chief Executive Carmen Doran. “The research then began as did our process improvements to avoid any future occurrence, contamination, or spread.”

Helius says that importing cannabis seeds to New Zealand made it only a matter of time before licensed cultivators with access to analytical testing identified HLVd locally.

According to the company, HLVd has likely been in New Zealand for a number of years before the recent discovery.

Working Together for Results

Alongside PFR’s work to establish a lab test to detect the presence of HLVd in plant material, understand its spread, and develop a potential treatment, Doran says that Helius has also partnered with Biolumic to test for the disease as well.

Helius announced a formal collaboration with Palmerston North-based BioLumic in 2020 to research medical cannabis growth stimulation using ultraviolet technology.

BioTechNZ Executive Director Dr. Zahra Champion says the discovery of HLVd in New Zealand is significant and a massive opportunity for the country’s new medical cannabis industry to learn, helping its long-term success.

“This viroid is highly transmissible and could’ve been devastating if New Zealand’s commercial cultivation was underway at a significant scale,” says Champion. “This early discovery and the research now underway will undoubtedly save our medical cannabis sector down the track.”

Champion says that the MedCan Summit 2021 in October is looking into including an HLVd presentation or workshop and what the New Zealand medical cannabis sector has learned.

Puro NZ Managing Director Tim Aldridge says that HLVd’s discovery gives the New Zealand cannabis industry a big head-up.

“We were fully aware of HLVd’s prevalence overseas, and have put in place measures to keep it out of our growing operations,” says Aldridge. “The discovery of Helius of the viroid in New Zealand, and the work with Plant & Food Research, will help cannabis companies better understand HLVd. It also gives the industry the chance to fine tune their protocols and practices in and around our cultivation and handling of plant material and equipment.”

Doran says that the Helius team will continue collaborations with the local industry on key findings and best practices.

According to Doran, HLVd has not affected consumers yet, but would have a significant impact on the medical cannabis sector.

Doran says that Helius has taken one for the team, investing time and resources to minimize HLVd’s reoccurrence in New Zealand.