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Author: Deborah Jaremko, JWN Energy

North America’s largest mobile land rig on the way from Nisku to Alaska

During their April visit, a team from ConocoPhillips Alaska tours the drilling rig floor.

ConocoPhillips says that the largest mobile land rig in North America is on its way from a National Oilwell Varco fabrication shop in Nisku to Alaska’s North Slope, where it will unlock previously unreachable oil resources. 

The extended reach drilling system, called Doyon 26, is estimated to be 1.5 to 2 times as powerful as existing rigs; a “game-changer” for ConocoPhillips Alaska, the company said on its Spirit Now web publication in July.

The rig has been in development since 2016 with Doyon Drilling Inc. (DDI), an Alaska Native regional corporation that ConocoPhillips says it has had a relationship with for 30 years.

Anchorage-based DDI says it “proudly supports a number of ‘firsts’ in the industry,” including the first self-propelled, wheel-mounted rig developed for the North Slope.

Doyon 26 is also self-propelled, which is quite a challenge given the size of the rig, ConocoPhillips Alaska drilling manager Chip Alvord said on Spirit Now.

The kit also has “special stomper feet” that will allow the company to “very accurately walk the rig modules in around tight tolerance areas,” said Paul McGrath, ERD project director.

ConocoPhillips says the more powerful rig has capability to drill targets seven miles from the surface location.

“Existing rigs are designed to drill about 22,000 feet from the pad, while the highly specialized Doyon 26 will be able to reach 37,000 feet. That means from a 14-acre drilling pad the high-tech rig will be able to develop 154 square miles of reservoir versus today’s 55 square miles.”

ConocoPhillips says there are no facilities for constructing drilling rigs in Alaska, so most Arctic rigs are built in Washington state or the Edmonton area.

“During construction we had assistance from our colleagues in Canada. The team recognizes what a game changer this will be for ConocoPhillips Alaska,” McGarth said.

The company says the 9.5-million-pound rig — equivalent to almost 10 fully loaded Boeing 747s — is being hauled to Deadhorse, Alaska in 267 separate tractor-trailer loads, the last of which are expected to arrive by November 2019.

After that, the pieces will be assembled into seven rig modules that will be transported over resupply roads to Alpine, Alaska in the first quarter of 2020.

The anticipated first drill date for Doyon 26 is April 2020.

An honest proposal

How Uproot is growing a regional local food movement.

A company wanting others to grow quickly in their own industry might sound strange to competitors, but that’s exactly what the Uproot Food Collective is all about.

In a spotless kitchen in downtown Edmonton that serves as a food manufacturing facility and head office for Uproot’s two current companies—Honest Dumplings and South Island Pie Co.—there are big plans brewing since humble beginnings at local farmers markets. 

Uproot now has the storage, fridges, equipment and certifications to help speed up their manufacturing processes. Now they want to help local food producers in the region who are ready to grow.

“Uproot is all about helping small companies scale up, so they can go from a couple hundred units being made in a day, or from serving a farmers market, to serving up to 200 mass retail stores.” Allen Yee, COO, explains.

“It’s about growing business in the province,” continues Chris Lerohl, CEO, “Our food industry is a quarter of the size of Ontario and yet we’re the largest supplier of ingredients.”

The abundance of fresh, easily-accessible produce is why Alberta, and the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, are attractive locations for many businesses in the food industry. It also allows Honest Dumplings and South Island Pie Co. to use local ingredients in their fresh products.

“All the flour we use is organic wheat flour from Alberta, while the meat is Alberta high-quality beef, chicken, or bison,” Chris explains, “and other ingredients are dependent on the season. But everything is from Alberta-based buyers; we try to keep as much in the local economy as we can.”

Now, Uproot is thinking big and moving to grow into mass distribution. 

Going from farmers markets and niche supermarkets to the big chains takes a lot more than just scaling production up. With increasing customers comes even more responsibility. Almost every chain supermarket requires that the businesses they trade with be HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) certified — an international standard that outlines the requirements for effective control of food safety.

Getting certified is a time consuming and expensive process, which is why it serves as a barrier for small companies looking to break into larger markets. Once Uproot has completed its HACCP certification, it will be an even bigger asset to regional small food manufacturers dreaming of larger markets and having their products hit the shelves. 

It’s about sharing the love, and the knowledge. For Uproot, other companies don’t mean competition, they mean success. 

Research institute launched out of U of A attracts $25 million in investments

Dr. Raimar Löbenberg adjusts manufacturing equipment in one of Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation’s main collaborating facilities, the Drug Development and Innovation Centre. PHOTO SUPPLIED BY API

Aiming to boost the biotech landscape in Edmonton, Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation has enlisted veteran biotech executive Robert Foster’s Hepion Pharmaceuticals, along with about 19 other companies, to help turn university research into pharmaceutical products.

“This is a big win for Edmonton, especially if we want to become a health city. It was an easy pitch for us to get all of (our) partners engaged and on board,” said CEO of Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation (API) Andrew MacIsaac, who is also an assistant dean in the faculty of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences at the U of A.

The institute attracted $25 million in investments since it launched out of the University of Alberta late last year.

Robert Foster built “a who’s who in the industry that went on to create an ecosystem” when he founded Isotechnika, the Edmonton-based company that later became Aurinia Pharmaceuticals, said MacIsaac. Now CEO of New Jersey-based Hepion Pharmaceuticals, Foster was impressed by API’s research labs, equipment and facilities.

API’s potential is especially exciting for those in the industry who don’t want to have to move to industry hubs like San Diego and Boston, Foster said.

“I don’t see anything like this in Canada,” said Foster.

The institute’s mission is to provide researchers with the drug development know-how to attract investment as well as providing an opportunity for students to gain work experience in the pharmaceutical industry, said MacIsaac.

For Foster, API represents a “transformational effort,” and has the people and infrastructure that Hepion needs to understand and develop new drugs that could be used to treat liver diseases, for example. “The problem we want to solve is: how do you know what’s going on in people’s livers? I think if we can put our heads together we can get a lot more mileage,” said Foster.

“We can take things directly form the research bench to the bedside of a patient,” said Andrew MacIsaac, CEO of Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation. PHOTO SUPPLIED BY API

API was incorporated as a not-for-profit in November 2018 to bring pharmaceutical research projects to Edmonton, and help train and employ students and post-doctoral researchers.

Until then, there was no framework to pull the right scientists and industry investors together. Co-ordinating the right experts and securing funding was a process that usually took a year, “which in the business world just doesn’t work,” said MacIsaac.

And, the skill set that it takes to make a major biotech discovery is totally different from the skill set it takes to develop that drug and bring it to market.

Collaborating with the university at arm’s length, API partnered with about 20 companies from local small enterprises to large multinationals, including Edmonton-based medicinal cannabis producer Aurora Cannabis Inc.

Edmonton’s economy needs to pivot, and API can help the area to diversify, Foster said.

“For me it’s important to see this evolution in the province. We have to become less reliant on natural resources, and I think most Albertans recognize that now,” said Foster.

Rather than sending graduate students to work for large pharmaceutical companies outside Canada, MacIsaac wanted to build an institute that could bring those companies, and whatever questions they needed to be solved, to researchers in Edmonton.

The institute also signed a $6-million deal with national non-profit research organization Mitacs to support up to 100 internships for post-doctoral fellow and graduate students over the next five years.

API could create up to 75 jobs in the next few years working with between 30 and 40 companies, said MacIsaac.

Not just flights: Airport City about to reach milestone in new development

The Edmonton International Airport expects to mark a major milestone before the end of this year — more people will be heading to the airport area to shop or work each day than to board flights.

That’s how much development around the flight centre has taken off.

The land surrounding the airport is a steadily growing cluster of tourist attractions, shopping outlets, technology developers, manufacturing facilities and shipping services designed to drive a regional profit.

“It’s really like a city in the way that it’s developed,” said Myron Keehn, the airport’s vice-president of air service and commercial development.

Growth is driven by international demand for rapid, on-demand movement of stuff as well as a growing number of passengers, he said. That economy demands such rapid connections, Keehn calls it the “physical internet.”

Speaking just outside this “airport city,” Rob de Groot said the biggest advantage of moving his company, Red Cup Distillery, to the airport was in shipping costs. He used to be in Vegreville, and the move cut both distance and time.

“When I’m getting bottles shipped from Vancouver, it’s next day. Just logistically speaking my costs went down huge,” said de Groot.

Beyond shipping, de Groot said there’s a productive relationship between the airport and its tenants. The management team and board introduced de Groot to chief executives in airports across the U.S.

“They see where the opportunities are. They really are an instigator; they want to be a city that lasts forever.”

A lease sign is seen as a Westjet flight departs Edmonton International Airport on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. Photo by Ian Kucerak/Postmedia

The introductions have helped. Staff at Red Cup have been so busy bottling vodka lately that de Groot has worn out his sneakers.

Red Cup is packing up two pallets a week — about 3,000 bottles — to ship to the U.S. It’s been difficult to distribute his product in Alberta, partly because competition from imported alcohol is fierce and due to some of the regulatory and tax structures here.

“We got onto the Vegas strip before we got onto Jasper Avenue; into Houston before Calgary,” says de Groot. In the middle of a workday, he only needs to go a few blocks to the airport’s outlet mall to grab some new footwear.

Last year alone, Airport City and the airport were responsible for $3.22 billion in total economic output, supporting 26,000 full-time jobs, both direct employment at the airport and other jobs throughout the region. That’s almost double the 13,400 jobs it counted between 2015 and 2017. In 2018, investments at the airport created 2,000 new permanent positions.

While Airport City boasts low land costs and property taxes, the airport’s commercial development arm isn’t meant to be competitive with other commercial and industrial parts of Edmonton, said Keehn. “They’re meant to be complementary.”

“To see the vertical construction that’s occurred at the airport today with non-aerospace related tenancies is awesome. It can do nothing but help our economy and our region,” said Dave Young, executive vice-president at the commercial real estate agency CBRE Edmonton.

Within the 2,800-hectare area, planners aim to supply businesses with everything they need on site. Manufacturers have easy access to freight transport and air carriers, and those shippers all have secure access to jet fuel from the Shell Aviation fuel centre.

Airport officials also match up local companies that want to solve similar problems or develop products. “You end up creating things that no one ever thought of,” says Keehn.

Edmonton International Airport vice-president of air service and commercial development Myron Keehn on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. Photo by Ian Kucerak/Postmedia

For example, Soltare partnered with other tech companies to develop technology it calls iHear. It helps drivers detect when and from where emergency vehicles are approaching them.

Tech company Absolute Combustion International developed a more efficient portable diesel aircraft heater by working closely with airport staff and other businesses in the airport’s Alberta Aerospace and Technology Centre.

“Innovation feeds everyone,” said Keehn. In some sectors, quite literally. With its new Fresh Cargo Centre, the airport boasts 465 square metres of refrigerated warehouse space for handling perishable cargo like meat, fruit, produce and pharmaceuticals. The site also has a casino, Costco, Aurora Cannabis production facility, and a race track.

They have big plans for further growth. Just west of the outlet mall, next to the newly-built Fairfield Inn and Suites in a mostly empty plot of dirt and weeds, there’s a pond. It functions as a catch basin for rain runoff, but it’s fancier than most stormwater ponds in Edmonton. It looks like a section of Ottawa’s popular Rideau Canal has been transplanted into a no-mans-land on the prairies.

The plan is to create a multi-season attraction for paddle-boarding and ice-skating, an amenity for the hotel and planned new retail and office complex. But whether these amenities attract more eager tenants or not, it’s clear the Edmonton airport is no longer just an airport.

Aris MD Makes X-Ray Vision Science Fact

The co-founders of Aris MD, CEO Chandra Devam and CTO Scott Edgar, met at summer camp as eleven year old wunderkinds and bonded over their love of science fiction. As they grew up, Devam, ever the entrepreneur, hired Edgar to install carpets for one of her first businesses. Devam became a model and real estate investor, while Edgar studied Artificial Intelligence at Stanford. Years later, when Devam had an idea for a company that required a visionary technology developer, she lured Edgar from his job. They sold that company privately. Subsequent to this sale, Edgar went on to become the brains behind Dryft, which quickly sold to Apple. “If you have an iPhone and you use the keyboard on that phone, I did a lot of work on patented technology that drives that keyboard,” said Edgar.

Aris can turn any scan, of humans, or machines, into a 3D space one can navigate with VR, AR, or PC. 
ARIS MD

Several years later, Devam was having minor surgery when a surgeon nicked an artery and endangered her life. Devam wondered, given all the advances in imaging technology, why there is so much guesswork involved in surgery. She and Edgar soon discovered there was a real need for a product that could turn a CT scan into, effectively, X-ray vision. Using computer vision and augmented reality glasses, the scans can be anchored to the human body. When viewed by a clinician wearing the XR device, the body reveals its intricate layers. There’s a lot of computation and different technologies in the stack of technology Edgar created, but x-ray vision is a pretty good metaphor for the lay reader.

“Medical error, and specifically avoidable medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the United States which is possibly the most medically advanced country in the world,” Edgar said at NASA Ignite at SXSW in March. “Did you know that you your heart, my heart, your lungs, my lungs, they’re all in different places. We are as different on the inside as we are on the outside. This is pretty obvious if you think about it. I mean you and I look very different. There’s no way that our organs could be in the same places and there’s no way for doctors to understand that easily at this point in time. So, right now when they look at medical imaging, be that CT, MRI, any of that sort of imaging, what they do is they look at it in slices. So, they look at it like flipping through pictures in a picture book and they try to composite those images in 3D in their mind. This is a huge burden on them and requires a lot of training to do this. We take the images and put them in 3D so that they can view them organically. They can view them for diagnostics. They can view them for surgical planning and using augmented reality we can actually project those images on the patient so they can see them live during the procedure. So, they can see exactly where something like a tumor is without actually having to cut into you. This allows procedures to be much safer, much faster, and much much more effective.” Aris won Ignite the Night, and was invited to participate in NASA’s larger, more prestigious competition, the 2019 NASA iTech-Cycle I, which the company won two weeks ago.

Aris MD co-founders Scott Edgar and Chandra Devam have been friends since they met at a camp for gifted children when they were eleven years old. 
ARIS MD

“It was just mind-blowing,” Devam says of the NASA honor. “I could not be prouder of what we’ve done here.” The NASA competition started three years ago to find some of the best emerging private technology from across North America. NASA hopes to incorporate this new tech into its various research programs, including its goal of future space exploration.

It is hard for a small company to break into the medical field. The US market is especially difficult as it is unclear who pays for new technology and the training necessary to harness its powers. Nonetheless, with international pilots in the UK and the United States. Aris was able to raise $2M in seed capital from angel investors and has continued to make progress despite its small staff and modest funding. The NASA win put a rocket under the company, and has taken them to the heart of the aerospace industry, someplace they never thought they’d be.

“Our new friends and advisors immediately realized that Aris’ technology should work with industrial CT scanners,” explained Devam. “A technician can look inside a rocket engine on the launchpad without taking it apart.” Testing quickly revealed that Aris’ technology is indeed very effective. “People are calling it a breakthrough,” said Devam. “Because it is.”

Now that the word is starting to get out, Aris suddenly has new deal flow from every direction, not just the medical field. Aris is looking at licensing its technology for applications like inspecting infrastructure such as pipelines, construction, automotive, reactors, airplanes, and for structural integrity. “Pretty much anything that has been constructed, we could scan,” says Devam.

Aris MD can turn MRIs and CT scans into 3D images, allowing surgeons to literally look inside the body. 
ARIS MD

Still, says Devam, our hearts are in helping people. “As a business, we save our partners time and money, but in terms of patient care most of all what we’re doing is saving lives,” she said. “Hand held scanners can create a 3D environment in which a remote doctor can work on a real patient. We are just at the beginning of discovering what this technology can do to help humankind.”

Growing greener, getting smarter: the rise of a new age

Connie Stacey is in the energy storing business, which is perfect given that she’s full of energy. She’s the mastermind behind Growing Greener Innovations, and hopes to bring her world-changing energy storage system to the masses.

They call it the Grengine, but it could be the answer to global energy poverty, as well as blackouts and unreliable power literally anywhere. 

The Grengine is a completely silent, scalable, portable, and buildable battery that can not only compete with traditional gas generators, but surpass them. It’s chargeable by anything that meets the minimum voltage of five volts, which includes any wall outlet, solar power, and hand-crank. 

Recently, the World Bank Group came out with a report titled “Energy Storage Trends and Opportunities in Emerging Markets” which had a list of installed cost per kilowatt hour for different types of batteries. The lowest cost batteries were lithium ion, and the installment cost was over $2100 USD per kilowatt hour. The Grengine’s retail installment cost is under $600 USD. How is this possible? For Grengine, there’s no electrician needed and it’s infinitely scalable. It would be accurate to say that they’ve put the electrician in the box.

The installment cost for normal batteries is so high because a trained electrician connects every single battery to the next, one at a time. But the Grengine’s batteries just need to be stacked onto each other, making it an easy and quick process – like Legos.

This helps promote local economies since instead of bringing in outside experts, you can bring in locals, and therefore create local economic growth. As Connie said, “If you’re in sub-saharan Africa, your next-door-neighbor isn’t an electrician. If you’re going to a place that does not have grid access, or has an unstable grid, that’s probably not the case, right?”

The Grengine’s easy system allows those that wouldn’t normally have access to energy, a whole new world of opportunities. And while those living in privileged societies might not comprehend it, energy poverty exists, and it is extremely common. In fact, more than 1.2 billion people live by candlelight, and more than 2.6 billion people need to burn biomass in order to generate energy to cook food. “More than half of the world’s population live with unstable energy access,” adds Connie. “The ultimate goal of the Grengine is to change that.”

However, it can also be used in the world’s most modern communities and buildings. It’s scaleable nature as well as its storage capabilities means that it can be used at a scale that works for everything and anything, from charging a phone to powering an entire city. In developed areas it provides electrical load management for reducing costs and power outages. It saves a lot of money for users, especially in areas with time of use fees.

While their units currently use Canadian innovation, many components are sourced and assembled abroad. Connie says they’d prefer to have everything done one hundred percent here. 

“The Edmonton metro region has an enormous advantage in manufacturing, especially given the low cost of and stability of the electricity here, our access to feedstocks including lithium, and that our universities and colleges both attract and generate amazingly talented people. 

“Canada has more Free Trade agreements than any other G7 country in the world, and we’re roboticizing manufacturing, which results in the capacity to substantially increase profit margins. We’re a great destination for advanced manufacturing companies.” Connie’s passion for the Edmonton metro region is contagious and she strongly encourages other companies to investigate the region’s advantages. 

“You’d be very, very hard-pressed to even find five cities in the world even competitive with the Edmonton metro region when you look at the big-picture.” 

Edmonton surgeons create cyborg tech to better transplant lungs and hearts

Dr. Darren Freed with a prototype ex vivo organ perfusion machine that was keeping swine lungs viable. The goal is to develop a better method to transport organs between donor and recipient on July 23, 2019. Photo by Shaughn Butts / Postmedia SHAUGHN BUTTS /POSTMEDIA

An inspirational story he heard as a child, a hot-rod car he loved as young man, and a desire to do something important with his life all helped propel Edmonton transplant surgeon Darren Freed to develop a transformative technology in organ transplantation.

Freed and his team at Tevosol, an Edmonton medical technology company, have built the prototype of a cyborg device that mimics the human body so that lungs can more easily survive outside the human body and be transplanted in excellent condition.

“It’s a robot donor, a machine donor,” says Freed’s partner, healthcare business expert Ron Mills.

The lungs are transplanted out of deceased patients into the cyborg chamber built to replicate what it’s like for lungs inside a healthy human body. There they can last for as long as 24 hours, about three times longer than current transplant technology permits.

If this multi-million dollar research project is successful — and there’s every indication from clinical trials that it will be — every single patient in Canada who is on the waiting list for new lungs and is in danger of dying could get the transplant they need.

The path to this achievement starts with Freed as a 12-year-old boy reading a news story about Baby Fae, the American infant born in 1984 with a diseased heart who underwent surgery, receiving the heart of a baboon. “I thought to myself, ‘I want to do that when I grow up,’ ” Freed says.

The main issue around transplant surgery for several decades now has been a lack of viable organs to transplant. Only three out of 1,000 deaths are in patients who are brain dead but with their other organs still working, the best case for preserving them for a short time for transplant. But out of those three in 1,000, just one in five will have lungs healthy enough to be used.

Freed and his partners, Mills and Dr. Jayan Nagendran, hope to double or triple the numbers for viable lung transplantation.

Freed built the first prototype in his car garage at home in 2015. He did all the coding for the machine, having taught himself the skill when he had to reprogram the computer in his 1988 Pontiac Fiero in order to turbocharge the engine.

Being a tinkerer, a musician, a coder and a surgeon provided Freed the skillset he needed to invent something new. “If you’re going to make a significant breakthrough, you have to be able to cross disciplines,” Freed says.

His stubbornness also helps, he adds:  “I’m too dumb to fail. I’m too dumb to figure out when something isn’t working and to give up.”

Freed first tested the device on pig lungs, then on 20 human lungs that had been rejected for transplant because they were too diseased. But on Freed’s machine, which allows for lungs to breathe naturally through pressure changes, these lungs actually improved in quality.

“The lung on the inside of the machine has to love it,” Freed says of the machine. “And the user on the outside of the machine has to love it as well, from all respects.”

The next step is to finish building a more user-friendly, portable and durable product, raise capital for Canada-wide testing, then take the prototype to a Montreal medical show and sell, sell, sell. Each unit will cost about $250,000, with a $12,000 disposable sterile kit for each transplant. In the United States, each transplant now costs $1 to $1.5 million. Mills hopes to have the product on the Canadian market next year and approved in the United States one year later.

In the end, of course, the success of the projects rests on how efficiently and economically the machine saves patients from certain death.

Indeed, death is a subject that came up regularly in my interview with Mills and Freed.

Death is front and centre in transplantation. A dead human is needed for lung donation and it’s  desperate and near-death patients who need them.

“We think about death a lot,” Mill said.

“It’s part of life,” Freed said. “This thing called life is a terminal disease. We’re all suffering from it. Think about that. It’s going to come to an end.”

“Jim Morrison said it,” Mills said, then quoted the American singer. “No one here gets out alive.”

What does Dr. Freed himself think about that fact?

“I’m dealing with it, right?” Freed said. “Make a contribution while we’re here. That’s how I think about it. Absolutely.”

On that count, I’d say Freed is most certainly hitting the mark.

Champion Petfoods Announces Leadership Additions

Blaine McPeak Named CEO and Greg Christenson Named CFO

EDMONTON, Alberta–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Champion Petfoods, maker of the award-winning ORIJEN and ACANA dog and cat foods, today announced that the Board of Directors has named Blaine McPeak as Chief Executive Officer. Additionally, Greg Christenson will fill the currently vacant role of Chief Financial Officer. Both executives will join Champion effective immediately. The Company’s Chief Operations Officer, John Frierott, who has been serving as interim CEO, will remain as COO.

McPeak brings more than 25 years of experience building brands and developing companies in the consumer packaged goods industry. He previously served as Chief Operating Officer of The WhiteWave Foods Company, a mission-centric company that achieved top-tier industry performance. There he built nascent brands such as Silk plant-based foods & beverages and Horizon Organic dairy products into industry leaders in their categories. Prior to joining WhiteWave, McPeak served 13 years at Kellogg Company where he led multiple divisions including being the inaugural leader for the Kashi Company.

Jim Walker, Chairman of the Board of Directors said, “During our search for a new CEO, there were several world-class executives interested in becoming CEO of Champion. What stood out about Blaine was his background as the architect behind building successful high-growth businesses and industry leading brands that appeal to health-conscious consumers. Our award-winning ORIJEN and ACANA brands are amongst the highest quality pet foods in the industry and already amongst the top choices of Pet Lovers everywhere. We are delighted that Blaine has agreed to lead the Champion team and further grow and distribute these top brands to ensure Pet Lovers everywhere can access these protein-rich foods and Biologically Appropriate diets for their pets.”

McPeak said, “I am honored to have the opportunity to lead Champion Petfoods into its next phase of growth in the vibrant pet foods industry and to work with a team so committed to advancing pet health. There’s so much runway for the business to leverage its award-winning kitchens, world-class research and innovation center, and high quality foods developed with the Biologically Appropriate principles.”

Christenson is an experienced executive with a history of building brands, delivering growth and driving profitability, most recently as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Amplify Snack Brands where he led all financial and accounting functions. Prior to joining Amplify, he was Chief Financial Officer of WhiteWave and Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Oberto Brands. He also spent 14 years at Kraft Foods in several leadership roles.

McPeak added, “We are fortunate to have someone as talented as Greg, whom I know well from our time together at WhiteWave, join the team as CFO. His deep experience in the consumer packaged goods industry working with premium brands will be a great addition to the leadership team.”

Christenson said, “I look forward to reuniting with Blaine and drawing on our successful working relationship. I’m excited to work with the entire Champion team to untap the full potential of the business.”

The Company’s Chief Operations Officer, John Frierott, had agreed several months ago to temporarily step in as interim CEO while a search was conducted for an executive with an established track record of building brands. Jim Walker said, “John has done an outstanding job over the last few months and he is looking forward to resuming his activities as the Company’s Chief Operations Officer working with Blaine and Greg.”

About Champion Petfoods

Champion Petfoods is an award-winning pet food maker with a reputation of trust spanning more than 30 years. Its ORIJEN and ACANA brands feature unmatched inclusions of fresh regional ingredients and are made exclusively in Champion’s own kitchens. Founded in the small town of Barrhead, Alberta, Champion now serves Pet Lovers in more than 90 countries around the world. To learn more, visit championpetfoods.com.

Edmonton-based cannabis retailer set to grow with investment from global retailer

Couche-Tard makes strategic cannabis move with investment in Fire & Flower

Fire & Flower has announced a strategic investment by Alimentation Couche-Tard, a global retailer with more than 16,000 stores in 26 countries. (CBC)

An Edmonton-based cannabis retailer is planning to significantly accelerate its growth and expansion after entering into a deal with one of North America’s largest operators of convenience stores and gas bars.

Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. has agreed to make a strategic investment in Fire & Flower Holdings Corp. of Edmonton, which will use the funds to develop its Hifyre digital retail platform and expand its network of cannabis retail stores.

“This strategic investment by Couche-Tard, one of the world’s largest retailers, is transformative for Fire & Flower,” said  Trevor Fencott, Fire & Flower’s chief executive officer, in a media release posted on its website.

“The retail cannabis platform we developed marries a best-in-class in-store experience with our proprietary Hifyre digital infrastructure and this is a huge vote of confidence in the platform.

Trevor Fencott, president and CEO of Fire & Flower, says the agreement will be “transformative” for his company. (Fire & Flower)

The companies say Couche-Tard’s initial investment would initially give it rights to 9.9 per cent of Fire & Flower’s equity, with the potential to increase its stake to 50.1 per cent in return for a total of about $380 million in growth capital.

Fire & Flower currently operates or licenses 23 cannabis retail stores in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario and a wholesale distribution division in Saskatchewan.

Alimentation Couche-Tard is one of North America’s largest operators of convenience stores and gas bars, primarily under the Circle K global brand and under the Couche-Tard banner in its home province of Quebec.

Fencott cites the opportunities created by Couche-Tard’s international operations, which includes major markets in the U.S., Mexico and Europe.

Couche-Tard chief executive Brian Hannasch says the investment will enable the Laval-based retail chain to accelerate its move into the cannabis sector.

“Couche-Tard is excited to make this strategic investment in one of the fastest growing cannabis ‘pure-play’ retailers,” Hannasch said in a statement.

“This investment in Fire & Flower, with a path to a controlling stake, will enable us to leverage their leadership, network and advanced digital platform to accelerate our journey in this new and flourishing sector.”

The companies say an indirect subsidiary of Couche-Tard will initially buy about $26 million of convertible debt securities that can be converted to 24.3 million common shares at a price of $1.07 each, representing 9.9 per cent of equity.

At the same time, Couche-Tard will receive three series of warrants allowing it to purchase more shares. It will also get the right to top up its investment to maintain its ownership percentage.

Fire & Flower’s stock is currently listed on the TSX Venture Exchange but it has received conditional approval to list its shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange concurrent with the transaction.

Fire & Flower’s stock price jumped 20 per cent to a two-month high at $1.37 a share following the announcement, while Couche-Tard stock was essentially flat at $80.73 in early trading Wednesday.

Aurora Cannabis and UFC® Launch Clinical Research on Use of Hemp-Derived CBD Products by MMA Athletes

New studies to advance the science on CBD use and athlete health and wellness and to drive product development under new U.S. sports performance brand, ROAR Sports

LAS VEGAS, July 24, 2019 /CNW/ – Aurora Cannabis Inc. (“Aurora” or the “Company”) (NYSE: ACB) (TSX: ACB), the Canadian company that’s defining the future of cannabis worldwide, and UFC, the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization, are proud to announce the launch of a joint clinical research program that will produce multiple studies under the terms of their recently announced partnership.

The research will examine the use of hemp-derived CBD as an effective treatment for pain, inflammation, wound-healing, and recovery on MMA athletes.

The ground-breaking research partnership is aimed at understanding key health and recovery needs of elite athletes in such a highly physical and competitive sport as mixed martial arts. Research data will then be used to drive the development of science-backed, hemp-derived CBD topicals that will be safe and reliable. These new products will help combat the rapidly growing market of untested CBD treatments currently being used by high-performance and non-professional athletes.

Aurora Cannabis Inc. (CNW Group/Aurora Cannabis Inc.)

Once research is complete, any resulting product will come to life in the U.S. under the new high-performance sports brand ROAR Sports, a portfolio of high-quality, hemp-derived CBD topical treatments scientifically formulated with elite athletes in mind. Through analysis of athlete needs and scientific data, ROAR Sports will challenge the status quo, seek to alleviate the stresses of competition, and earn designation as the “Official CBD product of UFC.”

The multi-phase clinical study at the UFC Performance Institute® in Las Vegas will be led by Dr. Jason Dyck, Chair of Aurora’s Global Scientific Oversight Committee; Dr. Kelly Narine, Aurora’s Vice President Global Research and Medical Affairs; and the team of sports performance experts at the UFC Performance Institute, led by Dr. Duncan French, UFC Vice President of Performance. Using active UFC athletes on a strictly voluntary basis, the study will help establish peer-reviewed, publishable research in this area. Products will be developed in full compliance with U.S. federal law and with UFC’s anti-doping program, which adheres to WADA and USADA regulations.

“Our partnership with UFC is about committing to the science that will educate and advocate,” said Aurora CEO Terry Booth. “We are going to work together to change the way people think, to change the industry, and to launch the first hemp-derived CBD products that are backed by scientific research. The brand-building and product development are all part of our move into the U.S., and in collaboration with UFC, and we intend to play a major role in that market.”

“We know anecdotally that professional athletes across sports disciplines are turning to hemp-derived CBD treatments to assist with physical recovery, with varying degrees of success,” added Jason Dyck, Chair of Aurora’s Global Scientific Oversight Committee. “The work we do in partnership with UFC will create an evidence-based, science-backed pipeline of consistent, and ‘clean’ hemp-derived CBD topicals that the high-performance athletes of UFC can rely on to treat the pain, inflammation, injury and other conditions associated with competing at such a high level.”

“Collaborating with Aurora is the best way to educate ourselves and our fighters about the impact of CBD on MMA athletes and our sport,” said Dr. Duncan French, UFC’s Vice President of Performance. “We want to apply science and see where it leads us.  Ideally, these studies will give us the clarity we need to determine n the effectiveness of hemp-derived CBD on athlete health and injury recovery.”  

“Although CBD is allowed under USADA and WADA regulations, we want to be the leaders on educating UFC athletes on CBD use,” said Jeff Novitzky, UFC Senior Vice President of Athlete Health & Performance.  “Athlete safety is a top priority for UFC, and we will collaborate with Aurora to ensure that any new products are third-party tested for all WADA-prohibited substances to make certain they meet WADA standards.” 

About UFC®

UFC®, is the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization and the largest Pay-Per-View event provider in the world. UFC boasts more than 300 million fans worldwide, including 70 million social media followers across all its digital platforms, and its programming is broadcast in over 170 countries and territories to one billion TV households worldwide in 40 different languages. UFC produces more than 40 live events annually and consistently sells out some of the world’s most prestigious arenas. Since 2001, UFC has been proudly headquartered in Las Vegas, supported by a network of employees around the world. UFC’s current roster of athletes features more than 590 men and women representing over 60 countries. UFC FIGHT PASS®, the world’s leading digital subscription service for combat sports, delivers exclusive live events, thousands of fights on-demand, and original content to fans around the world. UFC was acquired in 2016 by global sports, entertainment, and fashion leader Endeavor, along with strategic investors Silver Lake Partners and KKR, in what is among the largest transactions in sports history. For more information, visit UFC.com and follow UFC at Facebook.com/UFC, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram: @UFC.

About Aurora                    

Headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with funded capacity in excess of 625,000 kg per annum and sales and operations in 24 countries across five continents, Aurora is one of the world’s largest and leading cannabis companies. Aurora is vertically integrated and horizontally diversified across every key segment of the value chain, from facility engineering and design to cannabis breeding and genetics research, cannabis and hemp production, derivatives, high value-add product development, home cultivation, wholesale and retail distribution.

Highly differentiated from its peers, Aurora has established a uniquely advanced, consistent and efficient production strategy, based on purpose-built facilities that integrate leading-edge technologies across all processes, defined by extensive automation and customization, resulting in the massive scale production of high-quality product at low cost. Intended to be replicable and scalable globally, our production facilities are designed to produce cannabis of significant scale, with high quality, industry-leading yields, and low per gram production costs. Each of Aurora’s facilities is built to meet EU GMP standards. EU GMP certification has been granted to Aurora’s first production facility in Mountain View County, the Aurora River facility in Bradford, Ontario, and its wholly owned European medical cannabis distributor Aurora Deutschland.

In addition to the Company’s rapid organic growth and strong execution on strategic M&A, which to date includes 15 wholly owned subsidiary companies – MedReleaf, CanvasRX, Peloton Pharmaceutical, Aurora Deutschland, H2 Biopharma, Urban Cultivator, BC Northern Lights, Larssen Greenhouses, CanniMed Therapeutics, Anandia, HotHouse Consulting, MED Colombia, Agropro, Borela, ICC Labs, Whistler, and Chemi Pharmaceutical – Aurora is distinguished by its reputation as a partner and employer of choice in the global cannabis sector, having invested in and established strategic partnerships with a range of leading innovators, including: Radient Technologies Inc. (TSXV: RTI), Hempco Food and Fiber Inc. (TSXV: HEMP), Cann Group Ltd. (ASX: CAN), Micron Waste Technologies Inc. (CSE: MWM), Choom Holdings Inc. (CSE: CHOO), Capcium Inc. (private), Evio Beauty Group (private), Wagner Dimas (private), CTT Pharmaceuticals (OTCC: CTTH), Alcanna Inc. (TSX: CLIQ), High Tide Inc. (CSE: HITI) and EnWave Corporation (TSXV: ENW).

Forward looking statements

This news release includes statements containing certain “forward-looking information” within the meaning of applicable securities law (“forward-looking statements”), including, but not limited to, statements with respect to the performance of the Company. Forward-looking statements are frequently characterized by words such as “plan”, “continue”, “expect”, “project”, “intend”, “believe”, “anticipate”, “estimate”, “may”, “will”, “potential”, “proposed” and other similar words, or statements that certain events or conditions “may” or “will” occur, and include, but are not limited to,  the successful completion of the  clinical research program and the development and commercialization of  hemp- derived CBD topical products . These statements are only predictions. Various assumptions were used in drawing the conclusions or making the projections contained in the forward-looking statements throughout this news release. Forward-looking statements are based on the opinions and estimates of management at the date the statements are made, and are subject to a variety of risks and uncertainties and other factors that could cause actual events or results to differ materially from those projected in the forward-looking statements. The Company is under no obligation, and expressly disclaims any intention or obligation, to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as expressly required by applicable law.

Neither TSX, NYSE nor their applicable Regulation Services Providers (as that term is defined in the policies of the Toronto Stock Exchange and New York Stock Exchange) accept responsibility for the adequacy or accuracy of this release.

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