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Greek-Americans Advance Medical Marijuana Legalization

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New Greek TV had the opportunity to exclusively interview KannaLife co-founder and Greek-American Thoma Kikis.

In our interview, the established intellect offers us an overview on his background, multifaceted successes, the establishment of KannaLife, and ties to Greece. Bloomberg TV recently interviewed Kikis about how they are making headway with legislation (see video below).

NGTV: Can you tell us about your background?

TK: My father hails from Northern Epirus and my mother from Epirus, both grew up in Ioannina, a city in the northwestern region of Greece. I would visit Ioannina every summer and have traveled mostly all over Greece. It is a beautiful country and I'm proud to be of Greek decent.

I was born and raised in New York City. I am a product of the Greek parochial school system of St. Demetrios Jamaica and GOYA. I studied film and communications at New York University and graduated with a bachelor in Communications and was also an inaugural member of NYU in Athens, study abroad program in Greece.

After graduating, I worked at MTV where I redesigned MTV.com and started branding strategies for many companies and institutions including Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Columbia University's Teachers College.

I left New York looking for my roots and lived for a short period of time in Athens, prior to the 2004 Olympics, for 2 years, in Kolonaki. During that time I was immersed in the Greek film industry and was mentored by a great Greek film director and friend Nikos Nikolaidis. Niko was a true auteur and would often emphasize style to me and we would spend much time talking film, culture, mannerisms and about our obsessions with innovating the art of storytelling. Up until he passed away in 2008, he taught me to think different and also told me to leave Greece.

I came back to New York and worked in the film industry here for 10+ years making independent films. I produced Darkon, a real-life role play documentary about real people who create characters similar to Dungeon's and Dragons. Darkon was purchased for remake by Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment at Paramount and distributed by IFC. I recently executive produced the comedy film It's a Disaster, starring Julia Stiles, David Cross and America Ferrera and co-produced the award winning film Alps by director Yorgos Lanthimos, which recently won best screenplay at the Venice Film Festival and best film at the Sydney Film Festival. I remember seeing Yorgo's work in 2002, a short film called Uranisco Disco, and had spoken to Nikolaidis about this young director's work, 9 years later we worked together. In my opinion Lanthimos is one of the most innovative minds in film today and I have learned much from him also.

Design has always been my base and first love, I continue to always design corporate campaigns, luxury branding and logotype identities for medium to large businesses, to help them established a better brand story and help them grow, especially being an entrepreneur myself I understand what a company needs to take the next step and image is a big part of it.

I love innovation and to innovate, everything I have done and continue to do has been initially called "different" until the moment that it becomes mainstream and socially accepted. Being an early entrepreneur in the cannabis industry and its research has been of that same ilk.

NGTV: How did you get into the medical marijuana field?

TK: It started as something very personal to me, in 2006 my first cousin, a well renown cancer researcher Dr. Steven Kazianis was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor and I started researching alternative methods of therapy. I stumbled upon cannabis and recommended it to him, but being a scientist he wanted evidence and proof that it worked; there was also the fact that there was this stigma associated with marijuana. Like many other human beings when you see a family member in need, you try to do anything to help them. Unfortunately Steven passed at the age of 41 in 2008. This ignited a fire in me.

In 2009, I was in Los Angeles and had my first experience visiting a dispensary - that is where I saw the potential of this industry in its infancy. I called my business partner Dean Petkanas, who had extensive pharmaceutical knowledge and we started the process of building a socially responsible (plant based) phyto-medical company. It was Dean who emphasized that we go into pharmaceutical sciences and I thank him for that.

NGTV: How did you establish KannaLife?

TK: We founded KannaLife Sciences in 2010 and immediately went after a patent Dean found, we applied for the exclusive license of the '507 patent held by the US Government Health and Human Services and National Institutes of Health. The application process took almost 2 years of rigorous work but we were granted the license. The '507 patent is (US Patent #6630507 "Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants") - Cannabinoids are the chemicals that compose the Cannabis plant. There are over 85 known Cannabinoids in Cannabis.

Currently our research has focused on Cannabidiol (CBD). Exploring the appropriate uses and limitations and improving its safety and Metered Dosing. CBD has a limited therapeutic window and poor bioavailability upon oral dosing, making delivery of a consistent therapeutic dose challenging. We are developing new CBD like molecules to overcome these limitations and evaluating new phytochemicals from non-regulated plants.

KannaLife's research is led by experienced pharmaceutically trained professionals, Our Scientific team led is by Dr. William Kinney and Dr. Douglas Brenneman both with decades of experience in pharmaceutical R&D.

The early origins of pharmaceuticals started with plant based medicine, we are going back to the past and into the future, using biotechnology methods of today to explore these phytochemicals, to understand them and to develop new therapeutics.

NGTV: Where is KannaLife based out of?

TK: KannaLife is based out of our corporate headquarters in Lloyd Harbor, NY on Long Island and our research and development laboratories at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center in Doylestown, PA.

NGTV: Can you tell us about your legislative activities and strides?

TK: We were very active in advising state legislators in NY on standardization, testing and labeling for the Compassionate Care Act bill that was just passed and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. KannaLife can play a significant role in assisting NY to set up a great system, but it needs to be done the right way. We think this bill is a very good start.

NGTV: What is the mission of KannaLife?

TK: From the start we focused on the science and have used a trickle down approach to handling the Cannabis plant.

Three Areas of focus: FDA Drug Discovery, Naturopathic Product Development, Standardization of Medical Cannabis

On the FDA drug pipeline we are focused on treating diseases that effect the Brain, (HE), Hepatic Encephalopathy, a brain liver disease that stems from cirrhosis and (CTE), Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a concussion induced disease with long term effects mostly suffered by football, hockey, soccer players and boxers.

On the Natural Product side we are developing our own products and assisting companies such as HempMeds in QA/QC and standardization methods for legal CBD-only nutritional supplements that are derived from industrial hemp.

NGTV: How has New York state differed in its legalization of medical marijuana, compared to other states?

TK: New York is different mainly because it bans smoking for medical use. There will be no flower to patients like in other states. The flower will be grown and it will be extracted into an oil for patient use. Specifically, Metered Dosing in the bill was a great move and sets NY apart from all the other states. Dosing is also socially responsible for public safety and allows doctors to accurately prescribe medicine to patients.

NGTV: What else should we know about KannaLife?

TK: Our intention has always been to be one of the first companies in the cannabis pharmaceutical space to IPO, right now the demand is very high. We are currently exploring different options for our next phase of growth. A comparable company and a forerunner is GW Pharmaceuticals who have paved the way for a company like us on the pharmaceutical side, but we chose to focus also on New molecules, Natural Products, Skin and Standardization methods because we believe in this industry and want it to have a sustainable future.

KannaLife has an overall commitment to discover and understand new phytochemicals, in addition to exploring CBD and CBD-like molecules for multiple therapeutic areas. This diversification of scientific and commercial interests strongly indicates a balanced and thoughtful approach to our goals of providing standardized, safer and more effective medicines.

NGTV: Do you travel to Greece often?

TK: I love Greece, I used to travel there every summer. I need to take a trip there soon, I haven't been back in some time as I've been working here in the US and in Europe.

NGTV: Any plans to promote KannaLife in the homeland?

TK: Yes, I would like to meet with the decision makers in Greece. Discuss with them potentials of this medicine, its impact to patients and the major economic impact (we are talking about GDP) it could bring to a country like Greece. Both my partner and I are of Greek decent and have an affinity to set something up like this in Greece, but we need to be assured of the conditions of doing business and that it would be viable for us. We are currently meeting with heads of state of other countries who are keen on bringing policy, growing, standardization and the pharmaceutical sciences to their countries because they do see the potential economic benefits.

NGTV: What are your current goals in the legalization of medical marijuana?

TK: I was recently interviewed on Bloomberg TV's Taking Stock talking to Pimm Fox about this, including dosage. We want to continue to educate people on this plant so we can create the best medicine for patients. There are thousands of strains and each strain does something entirely different. We have a social responsibility to patients, testing is a priority, you need to test this plant, make sure its safe, see how it works and what its potential uses are good for.