LONDON— Imperial Brands IMBBY 3.00% PLC, the owner of Winston and Maverick cigarettes, bought a minority stake in Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies, a U.K.-based startup focused on research into medical uses of cannabis.
The investment marks the latest move by the world’s biggest tobacco and alcohol companies to explore opportunities from the widening acceptance of the drug.
The London-based company, formerly known as Imperial Tobacco, is contributing about £10 million ($13.1 million) in a funding round for the firm, according to a person familiar with the deal. The money will be used to research how cannabinoids can be used to treat conditions including pain, inflammation, cancer and neurological disorders. Cannabinoids are the chemical constituents of cannabis.
Cowen analyst Vivien Azer described the investment as “the most significant move among the global tobacco players in the cannabis industry to date.”
As a number of U.S. states and other countries have legalized cannabis use or liberalized regulation, tobacco and alcohol industry executives have viewed the drug as a potential competitor to their own products. Canada recently moved to legalize recreational marijuana. California in January implemented new rules allowing recreational marijuana sales and the drug’s commercial regulation.
Imperial said its interest in cannabis is limited to medical uses. The company’s chief development officer, Matthew Phillips, said