Beckley Canopy Therapeutics, based in Oxford, England has raised ₤7.4 million for the purposes of cannabinoid research and drug development. The new company is a unique partnership established between Canopy Growth Corporation and the Beckley Foundation, a research institute which examines the utilization of psychotropic drugs for the treatment of physical and mental conditions.
Studies focusing on the use of cannabinoids for the treatment of opioid addiction and cancer pain will be conducted in Europe, the UK and the US.
Here is the first reason: the woman behind it all. Her name is Lady Amanda Feilding, Countess of Wemyss and March. Born into a landed gentry family at Beckley Park (a Tudor hunting lodge with three towers and three moats) she also has a long history of engaging and supporting scientific endeavours that use stigmatized drugs in the treatment of both intractable disease and mental illness via the use of scientific research.
In 1998, Amanda Feilding set up the Beckley Foundation, a charitable trust which initiates, directs and supports neuroscientific and clinical research into the effects of psychoactive substances. She has also co-authored over 50 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals.
The so-called “hidden hand” behind the rebirth of psychedelic science, Fielding’s contribution to global drug policy reform has been widely acknowledged in international drug policy circles. She was named as one of the bravest men and women in the history of science in 2010 by the British Guardian.
And here is the second reason: The foundation is now partnered with Canopy Cannabis, one of the leading cannabis firms in the world, which is also working closely with Spanish opioid manufacturer Alcaliber.
In other words, this coalition is almost the mirror opposite of the approach taken by the American Sackler family, makers of Oxycontin, who have fought cannabinoids as an alternative or even transition drug in multiple state legalization campaigns. Meanwhile the death rates from overdoses have quadrupled since 1999. In 2016, opioid-related drug overdoses killed about 116 people a day (or about 42,249 for the year). It is estimated that about 11 million people in the U.S. are currently misusing or dependent on opioids.
Beyond The Politics of The Opioid-Cannabinoid War
While opioids clearly have a role particularly in chronic pain treatment, the question now at the global scientific table is this: Are cannabinoids a substitute for longer term chronic pain management? It is a fiercely battled scientific debate that has frequently, particularly in the U.S., crossed over into political drug reform questions.
The unique partnership of Beckley and Canopy is well placed both scientifically and culturally to take on a discussion which has languished for too long in the grass of political debate and reform.
Even better, it is taking place in a country where English is the first language, but outside the U.S. and further, in a country where cannabis has now been legally reclassified as a Schedule II drug.
Do not expect, in other words, the same trials and tribulations that faced noted U.S.-based researcher Sue Sisley, to slow down research, trials or findings.
Why Is A Cultural and Scientific Reset Required?
For the past forty years, since the end of the 1970s, cannabis in particular, has been pushed into a strange scientific territory in part, because of the culture surrounding the drug. This in turn, along with the schedule I classification of cannabis, has led to not only a dearth of research, but a reluctance on the part of prescribing doctors to examine its efficacy.
In the present, this means that doctors are still (beyond insurers who demand medical evidence before approving payment) the biggest hurdles in every medical system where cannabis is becoming legal. See the debate in Canada, the UK and of course, Germany, where patients frequently report asking for a drug their doctors refuse to prescribe.
This is exactly the kind of high-placed, societally influential effort in other words, that might finally break the medical taboo at the most important remaining logjam– at the point of prescription and approval for patients.
It is official. British doctors as of November 1, 2018, can now write prescriptions for medical cannabis. But what does that really mean? And is this truly a victory or merely an opening in the fierce resistance to and outright battle against cannabinoids as medicine?
A Real Victory Or Another Stall?
Many in the advocacy community in Europe are profoundly split. On one hand, yes, the British decision, like other sovereign medical cannabis reforms in Europe over the last two years, is a victory. The British government, like many before it, has thrown in the towel on denying basic access to medical cannabis. But what does this mean, especially in a country which may well be facing shortages of basic food products and other kinds of medications in under half a year if things continue to blow up on Brexit and there is no “people’s vote” to save the day?
Cultivated product would, normally, be slated to come from Portugal and Spain where Tilray and Canopy in particular have set up cultivation centers. If things continue to head to a negotiated Brexit, it is inevitable that imported cannabis would fall into the same category of everything else set to come into England by boat or lorry. It is highly unlikely that the NHS would authorize full payment for cannabis flown in from Canada. Especially with British Sugar’s existing cannabis plantations in Norfolk as well as the budding cultivation deals now finally flowering all over the country if not in Ireland.There are many who expect that medical cannabis will actually save public healthcare systems a great deal of money.
Brexit Is The Bigger Worry, So What About Cannabis?
It may also seem to some that access to cannabis is the least of the country’s worries. Actually this is a discussion deeply embedded in the politics and drama in London and Brussels right now. It is also at the heart of Brexit itself. Namely the propaganda associated with European divorce that ran along the lines of “saving the NHS.”
In fact, the legalization of medical use in the UK, just as it is in countries across Europe (Germany being the best and most current ongoing example) will do much to shine a light on how creaky and outdated the medical provision system really is here. Especially when it comes to approving new drugs for large numbers of people quickly. This was, ultimately the goal of public healthcare. See penicillin, not to mention most inoculation drugs or vaccines for childhood diseases (like Polio).
One of the great ironies of cannabis legalization in Europe of course is that it is also often shining a light on how far this concept, not to mention funds for proper delivery, has been allowed to lapse. There are many who expect that medical cannabis will actually save public healthcare systems a great deal of money. That is if it can finally make its way into widespread medical distribution.
And cannabis is a drug like no other. Why? Despite all the pharmacization of the plant that is going on right now as producers are being forced to produce pills and oils for the medical market, cannabinoid treatments will not be pushed so easily into “orphan” status – since whole plant products can treat a range of diseases. This is important in terms of supply and negotiated prices down the road. But in the short term, cannabis is falling into a couple of strange categories created by organized public healthcare, insurance mandates (both public and private), the demands being placed on producers in this space to act more like pharmaceutical companies, limited public spending budgets, and a changing demographic where chronic conditions treated by cannabis are a whole new ballgame. Namely patients are living longer, and not necessarily old.
So while it is all very well and good for British doctors to begin to write prescriptions for cannabis, merely having one does little good for most patients. In fact, this usually means the battle is only half won.
National Healthcare Is Still Functional In Europe
As foreign as it is to most Americans, most European countries operate more or less the same way when it comes to healthcare. First of all, all of the national systems in operation in Europe today, including the UK, were set up in the aftermath of WWII to recover from devastation most Americans, especially today, never experienced personally.
These healthcare systems were set up to first and foremost be inclusive. In other words, the default is that you are covered. 90% of populations across Europe in fact, including the UK, are covered by their national healthcare systems. “Private” health insurance actually only covers about 10% of the population and in some countries, like Germany, is mandatory once annual income rises above a certain level.
However this system is also based on a very old fashioned notion of not only medical care, but treatment of chronic conditions. Namely, that most people (the mostly well) face low prices for most drugs. Further, the people first in line to get “experimental” or “last use” drugs (as cannabis is currently categorized in Europe no matter its rescheduling in the UK), are patients in hospitals. With the exception of terminal patients, of course, that is no longer the case.
Patients in the UK can expect to face the same kinds of access problems in the UK as in Germany.That is why, for example, so many disabled people began to sue the German government last year. They could not afford treatment until their insurer approved it. Monthly supplies in legal pharmacies are running around $3,000 per month for flower. Or about 8 times the total cash budget such people have to live on (in total) on a monthly basis.
In fact, because of this huge cost, approvals for drugs like cannabis do not actually happen at the front line of the insurance approving process, but are rather kicked back to regional (often state) approvals boards. As a result, approval for the right to take the drug with some or all of the cost covered by insurance, is actually limited to a much smaller pool of people right now – namely the terminally ill in hospital care. In Germany, the only people who are automatically approved for medical cannabis once a doctor writes the prescription, are the terminally ill. For everyone else it is a crapshoot. Between 35-40% of all applications in Germany are being turned down a year and a half into medical legalization. Some patients are being told they will have to wait until next year or even 2020.
And once that prescription is actually approved? Patients in the UK can expect to face the same kinds of access problems in the UK as in Germany. Namely pharmacies do not readily stock the drug in any form.
In the meantime, patients are turning back to the black market. While the online pharmacy discussion is different in the UK than Germany, which might in fact make a huge difference for the right approvals system, most patients in the UK still face a long fight for easy and affordable access covered by public healthcare.
Disclaimer: Marguerite Arnold is now in negotiations for a pilot of her digital prescription and insurance pre-approvals and automization platform called MedPayRx in several European countries including the UK, Germany, and a few others.
Now that Canada finally has a date for the recreational market start, the federal government, provinces and other regulatory authorities are beginning to issue guidelines and rules that are going to define the early days of the recreational industry.
These include regulations on retail trade, medical sales and use. However this is precisely where the confusion is growing.
The Government Will Continue To Run The Medical Cannabis System
In a move to protect patients, Health Canada has announced that it will continue to run the medical part of the market for at least the next five years. In good news for medical users, this announcement was made against calls from the Canadian Medical Association for the medical infrastructure developed on Canada’s path to recreational reform to be phased out. The reason, according to the CMA? Many doctors feel uncomfortable prescribing the drug because of a lack of research and a general lack of understanding about dosing.
Both patients and advocates have expressed support for continuing the medical system. This includes organizations like the Canadian Nurses Association who fear that if a focus is taken off of medical use, producers will ignore this part of the market to focus only on recreational sales.
In the future, after legalization, Health Canada will also continue to support more research and trials.
Provinces Are Setting Their Own Rules For Recreational Sales
Despite early statements, the recreational market is still in the throes of market creation and regulation. The laws are also changing in progress, a situation one regulator has described as building an airplane as it hurtles down the runway for take-off.
Athletes in Canada are still banned from using any kind of cannabis.For example, Ontario, the largest provincial market, is also delaying private sector sales in retail shops until next year. It is also moving away from a government-run dispensary model. Government sales will begin in October, but private dispensaries will have to wait until next April to open their doors (and existing operations will have to close their doors while they apply for licenses). This is also a reversal of the regional government’s position that it would only allow government-controlled shops to sell recreational cannabis.
But perhaps the largest unknown in both national and provincial policy outside of retail brick and mortars is in the area of online sales. A major fight is now brewing in many places where the established industry is now siding with the government about unregistered dispensaries (see Ontario) and established if not registered producers are competing directly with the government not only on main street but online as well.recreational users are beginning to sound alarms that they do not want the government to have so much personal information about them
Retailers with a web presence operating in a grey space will continue to pose a significant challenge to the online system now being implemented by the government for two reasons. Product availability (which will be far more limited on the government-run sites) and privacy.
Beyond the lack of diverse products and strains to be initially offered via the online government portals, recreational users are beginning to sound alarms that they do not want the government to have so much personal information about them – and point specifically to the differences in the regulated alcohol industry vs. the new regulations for the recreational cannabis market.
Beyond Market Rules, There Are Other Guidelines Coming
The Canadian military has now issued guidelines for active duty personnel and cannabis. It cannot ban it from soldiers entirely of course, and as it stands, the situation will be ripe for misunderstandings. For example, soldiers are prohibited from consuming cannabis 8 hours before any kind of duty, 24 hours before the operation of any kind of vehicle or weapon and 28 days before parachuting or serving on a military aircraft.
The only problem, of course, is being able to enforce the same. Cannabinoids, notably THC, can stay in the body for up to 30 days for casual users long after the high is over.
Athletes in Canada are still banned from using any kind of cannabis. The reason? They are subject to the Canadian Anti-Doping Program (CADP) under which the use of cannabis will still be prohibited.
That said, the Canadian Hockey League is reportedly now examining how to revise how it addresses the issue of medical use.
The cannabis industry is evolving as more states begin to legalize; as the legalization of cannabis grows, the industry will need more well-informed dispensaries and dispensary employees.
Unfortunately, there are employees in dispensaries without proper training and some are put in positions to recommend specific strains to patients that may not be accurate. Getting proper training is important, no matter which cannabis job you want to pursue.
More Training Is Needed
Currently, there are no national standards for training dispensary employees, there is not even a licensing code. Therefore, it is important for owners to investigate state laws and understand legal minimums for worker education.
There are states, like Massachusetts, which requires a $500 fee for employee registration. There are other states that require cannabis employees receive a certain number of education hours on specific topics, like patient confidentiality.
Overall, more than fifty percent of cannabis dispensary staff has reported receiving some type of formal training and only twenty percent of staff members have received medical cannabis training.
Dispensary staff should receive training on how and when to make appropriate suggestions to patients. Any successful dispensary owner will acknowledge that employee education pays off in reduced loss, increased sales and avoided fines. There are more benefits to employee training than just these and there are steps owners can take to ensure they are getting the most out of their business and employees.
Setting up a System
When a dispensary has protocols in place that show how the business operates, the company will have consistency and organization. No matter the task, all team members must follow specific procedural protocols.
Mostly, mistakes are made when steps are missed or misunderstood by new employees, but with proper and thorough training, this can be avoided. Owners should be investing in a POS software system that is straightforward; this will reduce training time and make it easier for new staff to be familiar with the system.Having budtenders that can educate and connect with the customers on a personal level is invaluable
Teaching budtenders to adopt a soft sell technique will be the most effective when it comes to increasing sales. Many customers seeking relief using cannabis are not going to respond to a hard sell technique, as this comes off pushy or aggressive.
There are going to be customers who are unsure of what products they want; theses customers will need guidance, and training employees to make suggestions based on what the customer is looking for is the best sales practice.
Having budtenders that can educate and connect with the customers on a personal level is invaluable; dispensaries that do this will have repeat customers.
More States Legalizing, More Dispensaries and More Employees
As the United States heads towards cannabis legalization, slowly but surely, we need to be prepared to train workers. When you have a dispensary that you have already spent millions of dollars on the application process, you don’t have time to be messing around with employees that are not serious.
There are many different options anyone in the cannabis industry can seek out to educate themselves more in the business.Those distributing cannabis must take their duties as seriously as pharmaceutical technicians, because in a sense that is what they are doing. They are giving information on the prescription or drug to a customer that is using it for an intended a purpose.
Cannabis users come in many different ages and aliments. It is important for budtenders and dispensary owners to understand the backgrounds of each customer to increase their up-sale potential.
While compassion isn’t something you can learn online or in a classroom, it is always a good idea to remind others to be compassionate. The budtender that asks the right questions, takes time with each patient to care for them and goes over practical products for the client will be the budtender with the most sales revenue.
There are many different options anyone in the cannabis industry can seek out to educate themselves more in the business.
Some platforms are available online and are filled with important content that can teach you about different aspects of the cannabis plant and industry. These classes can prepare employees or owners for success.The most important training will be the training of patients
There are courses that can educate you in how to cook and healing with cannabis. You can also learn about laws on a state-by-state basis when you are enrolled in a cannabis-training program. The cannabis industry is large and growing; entrepreneurs, lawyers and caregivers can learn about the growing movement and expand their knowledge on this topic.
The most important training will be the training of patients, who will be navigating between the world of western medication and the new option of medicinal cannabis.
There are obviously many positive things that will come from the legalization of cannabis, one of the biggest being more options for pain management patients. There is a misconception that people are using medicinal cannabis as an excuse to get high; however, many patients in most states are over the age of 50.
In 2016, it was estimated that 650,000 Americans were using cannabis in compliance with the laws of their state. As legalization grows to a national level, we are going to need to be educating patients.
It is important for citizens to talk to their doctors about methods they believe will work best for them. It is necessary to communicate strains that are ineffective or unsatisfying. Keeping a cannabis journal is a good way to know what dose and strain you benefit from the most.
There are many ways patients can be educated in the cannabis industry, and dispensaries that encourage patient education will grow customer loyalty. The person who knows the facts and is confident in their information will be more successful than the person who guesses.
Be sure you, your staff and your customers know the laws, strains and can accurately answer questions about cannabis.
Calls for more testing have been a watchword of both cannabis reform advocates and opponents alike for many years.
However, now is a really good time for cannabis companies to consider sponsoring medical trials across Europe for their cannabis products. This is why:
The Current Environment On The Ground
Germany is Europe’s biggest consumer of both prescription medications and medical devices dispensed by prescription. It is, as a result, Europe’s most valuable drug market. And ground zero for every international cannabis company right now as a result.Targeting Germany for your latest pharmaceutical product is difficult no matter who you are.
Here, however, are a few problems that face every pharma manufacturer, far beyond cannabis. Targeting Germany for your latest pharmaceutical product is difficult no matter who you are.
- The vast majority by euro spending on all drugs and devices dispensed by prescription must be pre-approved. To add to this problem, before they can be prescribed, new drugs must get on the radar of doctors somehow. To put this in stark relief, the entire prescription drug and medical device annual spend is about 120 billion euros a year in Germany. Only 20 billion euros of that, however, may be obtained relatively easily (without pre-approval from an insurer). Preapproval also only comes when there is trialor other scientific evidence of efficacy.
- There are strict rules banning the advertising of prescription drugs to patients and highly limiting this outreach to doctors.
- There are strict rules prohibiting the use of the word “cannabis” to promote anything.
- There is a strong reliance on what is called “evidence-based medicine.” That means that large numbers of doctors and insurance company approvers need to see hard data that this drug or device actually works better than what is currently on the market.
How then, is a new drug supposed to get on the radar of those who prescribe the drug? Or patients?
If this sounds like an impossible situation to navigate, do not despair. There is a way out.
The Impact of the European Medicines Agency
This agency has been much in the news of late. Namely, the British do not want to exclude themselves from the regulatory umbrella of this organization.
Largely unknown outside Europe, this agency actually has a hugeinfluence on how drugs are brought into the region. Specifically, this is the EU-wide agency (aka the EMA) that both regulates all drugs within Europe, but has also, since 2016, been making clinical reports submitted by pharmaceutical companies, available to anyone who asks for them. That includes doctors, members of the public and of course, the industry itself.
In the middle of July, the agency also published a report on the success of its now three-year-old program, including the usage of its entry website. Conveniently written in English, it is possible to easily search new trial data, which, also now must be made public.
Medical trial data, in other words, that can be created by sponsored cannabis company backed trials.
It remains the best way to get patients, doctors and insurance companies familiar with new drugs. Or even new uses for old drugs in the case of cannabis.
Will Trials Move Legalization Discussions?
However,there are no other cannabis companies in the position of GW Pharma – namely with a monopoly on a whole country (the UK), where it alone can legally grow cannabis crops and process the same into medication and further for very profitable export. In addition, even more disturbingly, and clearly an era that is coming to an end, the vast majority of British patients have been excluded from access to cannabis except in the case of GW Pharma products.
The current row over expanded medical use in the UK, in fact, was triggered by two things. The failure of the latest GW Pharma trial for drug resistant epilepsy in Eastern Europe. And the deliberate importation by several desperate families, of good old cannabis (CBD) oil into the UK. No medical processing required.
However, that is the UK.
Other cannabis companies can take a page out of the company’s handbook. All that is required for faster market entry, is a slightly altered recipe.
By sponsoring cannabis-related trials in each country they want to enter, starting with Germany, cannabis companies can literally put themselves on the medical map.
Because doctors, patients andother researchers will be easily able to see and access country-specific medical data on each use of cannabis covered by a trial, per EU country. All made possible, of course, by the new open door policy of the EMA.
Growing the Medical Market
While this may sound like an “expensive” proposition, there are really few other alternatives. And with no advertising budget, plus a marketing budget that must include outreach to everyone in the supply chain including doctors, distributors and even pharmacies, the trial approach in the end may be the most efficacious in broadening both the demand and market. Not to mention the cheaper option.
How such a trial strategy might be coordinated at a time when domestic cultivation is still on hold is still a question. However for those companies considering market entry and cultivation bid if not domestic processing strategies for their products is an industry strategy that will pay off in spades.
Its role in the legalization of cannabis as medicine, as well as the speedier introduction of new drugs overall into the European system,cannot be underestimated, even if it is currently underutilized by the cannabis industry specifically now.
Techniker Krankenkassen (or TK as it is also frequently referred to) is one of Germany’s largest public or so-called “statutory” health insurance companies. It is companies like TK that provide health insurance to 90% of the German population.
TK is also on the front lines of the medical cannabis discussion. In fact, TK, along with other public health insurers AOK and Barmer, have processed the most cannabis prescriptions of all insurers so far in the first year after the law change. There are now approximately 15,000 patients who have received both a proper prescription and insurance approval coverage. That number is also up 5,000 since the beginning of just this year.
In a fascinating first look at the emerging medical market in Germany, TK, in association with the University of Bremen, has produced essentially the first accessible report on approvals, and patient demographics for this highly stigmatized drug.
Because it is in German, but also contains information critical to English-speaking audiences in countries where the medical issue is being approached more haphazardly (see the U.S. and Canada), Cannabis Industry Journal is providing a brief summary of the most important takeaways from TK’s Cannabis Report.
Most Patients Are Women
This is not exactly surprising in a system where symptomology rather than ability to pay is the driver of authorizations and care. This is also exactly the opposite trend when it comes to gender at least, that emerged in Colorado on the path to medical legalization circa 2010-2014. While chronic pain is still the most common reason for dispensation, the drug is going mostly to women, not men, in their forties, fifties and sixties.
Even Chronically Ill Patients Are Still not Getting Covered
This data is super interesting on the ground for both advocates and those who are now pushing forward on “doctor education” efforts that are springing up everywhere. The only condition for which cannabis was approved 100% was for patients suffering from terminal cancer pain from tumours. In other words, they were also either in hospice or hospital where this kind of drug can be expedited and approved quickly. Other conditions for which the drug was approved were both at far lower rates than might have been expected (see only a 70% approval rate for Epilepsy and a 33% approval rate for Depression).
Expect approval rates to change, particularly for established conditions where the drug clearly helps patients, even if there are still questions about dosing and which form of cannabis works best, along with improved research, data and even patient on boarding.
Also expect interesting data to come out of this market for patients with ADHD (or ADHS).
Imported Cannabis Is Very Expensive
TK and other public health insurers are also on the front lines of another issue not seen in any other legalizing cannabis country at the moment. An eye-wateringly high cost per patient. The biggest reason? Most of the medical cannabis in the market is being imported. This will change when more cannabis begins to enter the market from other EU countries (see Spain, the Baltics and Greece) and, yes, no matter how many elements of the German government are still fighting this one when it begins to be cultivated auf Deutschland.
Most German Patients Are Still Only Getting Dronabinol
If there was one thing that foreign investors should take a look at, it is this. One year after legalization, just over 1/3 of those who actually qualify for “medical cannabis” are in fact getting whole plant medication or a derivative (like Sativex).
This means only one thing. The market is continuing to grow exponentially over at least the next five to ten years.
If anyone (read Auslanders) had any illusions that the German take on medical cannabis was going to be casual or unscientific if not painstakingly documented, think again.
Techniker Krankenkasse (or TK as it is referred to by the locals) is one of Germany’s largest public health insurance companies. In other words, it is a private company that is required to provide so called “statutory” health insurance which covers 90% of Germans.
As such, they are also on the front lines now of the medical cannabis debate. Approximately one year after the new law requiring public health insurance companies like TK to reimburse cannabis claims went into effect, the company has just issued what would surely be a best-seller if it were being sold.All of the medical cannabis now being prescribed and reimbursed is coming from abroad.
The Cannabis Report, as it is titled, produced with the help of professors at the University of Bremen, is also the first of its kind. In its pages, along with the corporate summary produced for the recent press conference in Berlin, are several fascinating snapshots of what is going on.
By the numbers.
The Cannabis Report
For those who cannot understand German, this summary by Business Insider is quite educational. Here are the major takeaways: There are now almost 16,000 German patients who are receiving some kind of medical cannabis by prescription. From a doctor. These patients are also paying about $12 for their monthly supplies – even if they have to wait for reimbursement. This is in contrast to the 1,100 patients who managed to obtain cannabis by prescription and pay for it themselves before the law changed last spring.
Do the math and that is a 1,450% uptick. Add in the additional 15,000 left out of this report who are getting cannabis prescribed but their claims turned down, and that is an even more amazing story.
For that reason, the cost of medical cannabis is a major concern, along with the medical efficacy of cannabis and the authors’ frustrations about dosing.
The most interesting takeaway? Chronic pain and spasticity arehigh on the list of prescriptions (MS is currently the only condition which is “on label” for cannabis). So is Epilepsy and AIDS. Most interestingly are the high numbers for ADD. This is also highly significant in a country where amphetamine prescriptions for the same are almost unheard of.
TK, like the other health insurers who have started to provide numbers, also approved approximately two thirds of the requests they received. And it has cost them $2.7 million. That bill will begin to reduce as Germany cultivates medical cannabis domestically. However, the tender bid, which now apparently includes 11 contenders, is still undecided, with growing apparently pushed off now until (at the earliest) sometime next summer.
The bottom line, however, in the report from Socium, a university-based think tank that focuses on social inequality, is that cannabis is a drug that should also be treated like any other medication. Even though study authors conclude that so far, they do not find cannabis to be as “effective” as other drugs, they clearly state that the drug does help patients.
An Equally Interesting Industry Snapshot
Flip to page 20, however, and the authors also confirm something else. The top companies providing medical cannabis to German publicly insured patients who are getting reimbursed are Bedrocan, Aurora andCanopy. Aurora’s brands clock in at the highest percentage of THC, although their German importer Pedianos, clearly offers a range of products that start at less than 1% and increase to 22%. MedCann GmbH (renamed Spektrum last year) is essentially providing the rest, and ranges of THC at least, that go from 5.4%-16.5%. They also provide the products with the highest percentages of CBD.
Unlike the other companies, Canopy’s “brands” are also showing up in ostensibly both medical and government reports (Houndstooth, Penelope, Princeton and Argyle). This is interesting primarily because the German government (and regulatory requirements) tends to genericize medications as much as possible.
Dosing, Impact, Results
The next page of the report is also fascinating. Namely a snapshot of what kind of cannabis is being prescribed and at what doses. Patients who are obtaining cannabis flower are getting up to 3 grams a day. Dronabinol, in stark contrast (which is still the only form of the drug many German patients are able to get), is listed at 30mg.
Unlike any corporate report so far, the study also discusses consumption methods (including, charmingly, tea). It is impossible to forget, reading this, how German and structured this data collection has clearly been. There are several fairly stern referrals to the fact that cannabis should not just be prescribed for “vague” (read psychological) conditions but rather aspecific symptomology (muscle spasms and severe pain).
There is also great interest in how flower differs from pills. And how long the effects last (according to the authors, effects kick in about 2-15 minutes after dosing and last for 4 hours). This is, of course, an accurate picture of what happens to just about every patient, in every country. What is striking, particularly to anyone with an American perspective, is how (refreshingly) clinical much of this basic data collection and discussion is.
And no matter how much the authors call for more research, they clearly have observed that cannabis can have positive, and in many cases, dramatic impacts on patients. According to the handy graphs which are understandable to English speakers, study authors find significant evidence that the drug significantly helps patients with severe pain and or muscle spasms – see MS and Epilepsy, AIDS patients with wasting syndrome and paraplegics (wheelchair bound individuals). Authors list the “strong possibility” that the drug can help with Tourette’s and ADHD. Fascinatingly, however, so far, German researchers are not impressed with the efficacy of the drug for Glaucoma. “Psychological” and psychiatric conditions are also low on the list.
Regardless, this is an important line in the sand. As is the clear evidence that cannabis has efficacy as medication.
The great German cannabis science experiment, in other words, is well underway. And further, already starting to confirm that while many questions remain, and more research is required, this is a drug that is not only here to stay, but now within reach of the vast majority of the population.
According to a press release, last week GW Pharmaceuticals’ drug Epidiolex received a positive FDA panel review, which is an encouraging and important step towards getting the drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and on the market in the United States. Epidiolex is an anti-epilepsy drug, taken in a syrup form, with the main active ingredient being cannabidiol (CBD), and less than 0.1 % THC.
The drug is targeted to treat Dravet syndrome (DS) and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) a rare early-onset type of epilepsy found in children, according to Reuters. FDA staff said the drug “reduces seizure frequency in patients with drug-resistant LGS or DS while maintaining a predictable and manageable safety profile.”
GW Pharmaceuticals, founded in 1998 and based in London, is a biopharmaceutical company that has made headlines previously for developing cannabis-derived drugs. Sativex, one of the first drugs they developed, is derived from cannabis, but was not approved by the FDA. It is however available in other parts of the world, such as the EU, Israel and Canada.
If Epidiolex actually gets approval by the FDA, it will be the first-ever cannabis-derived drug available via prescription in all of the United States. According to Justin Gover, chief executive officer of GW Pharmaceuticals, this is a momentous breakthrough for the company. “We are pleased by the Advisory Committee’s unanimous recommendation to approve Epidiolex, which would provide an important treatment option for patients with LGS and Dravet syndrome, two of the most severe and treatment-resistant forms of epilepsy,” says Gover “This favorable outcome marks an important milestone in our company’s unwavering commitment to address the significant unmet need for patients with LGS and Dravet syndrome and our resolve to study Epidiolex under the highest research and manufacturing standards. We look forward to our ongoing discussions with the FDA as it continues to review the Epidiolex NDA.”
According to the GW press release, the Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee of the FDA unanimously recommended supporting the approval of the New Drug Application (NDA) for the drug. That advisory committee is sort of like an independent panel; their unanimous vote doesn’t necessarily mean the drug will get approved, but the FDA takes their decision into consideration when approving new drugs. So this panel recommendation is certainly a good sign and shows this drug could potentially be on the path to FDA approval.
In a move that seems to shed more doubt than certainty on domestic cannabis cultivation and the date that it will start auf Deutschland, the Higher Regional Court (or OLG) in Dusseldorf formally stopped the pending bid procedure for the first crop on March 28th. BfArM, the federal agency in charge of regulating all narcotic drugs, initiated that procurement bid. The tender bid was launched after the German Parliament and federal legislators changed the law last year to mandate that cannabis be available via prescription, and further that public health insurers were required to cover it.
That bid announcement was supposed to come as early as last September. Criticisms about the process and requirements began immediately thereafter. For starters, the bid’s requirements excluded all German-only respondents to the bid and left both Canadian and Israeli firms in the front positions to obtain these valuable licenses. However, there were other gripes, including the fact that the amount of cannabis requested (about 6.6 tonnes) was far too low to even begin to meet real demand. Namely, there are easily 1 million German patients who could qualify for the drug.
In the space of the last year, in fact, the number of “official” German cannabinoid patients has shot up from 1,000 to about 15,000. That said, the top three covering insurers also report a mere 64% approval rate. This means that there are more doctors writing prescriptions than insurers are covering.
That, at least for patients and their advocates is a bit of good news despite the blow that any delay in domestic production has created. Doctor resistance to prescribing cannabinoids even when there are no other alternatives has been used as an excuse in many media reports for the speed of market development. That clearly is not true. The attitude on the ground in Deutschland is rapidly changing.
That bid announcement was supposed to come as early as last September. At that point, however,the agency was then forced to extend the response date, which it did, but apparently not for long enough.
Throughout the fall, it was impossible to understand, from any direction, what was going on. Four lawsuits against the bid were launched around September, each with differing complaints that ranged from criticizing the agency for the lack of extension and response time to monopolistic business practices.
The OLG dismissed all but the criticism about the extension.what this decision has done most clearly is slowed down the production of domestically grown medical cannabinoids
The one clear thing to come out of Düsseldorf? BfArM has been banned from awarding its contract to anyone to produce medical cannabis in Germany starting in 2019. The first letters to bid finalists announcing the bid had been canceledbegan arriving the day after the court’s decision.
Reading Between the Lines
There have been rumors since last fall that the bid would end up in such waters. However,all the major producers widely suspected to have applied for the bid also began announcing themselves as finalists in press releases. For this reason, the official line from everyone that the bid was still, in fact, on track.
Nobody could understand why anyone would want or even be able to halt the production of direly needed, locally sourced, high-gradecannabis. That includes BfArM, which made an impassioned response, via their attorney to the OLG in Dusseldorf. Attorney Heike Dahs warned the court that any interruption of the bid was “very bad for the care of patients.” He was similarly pessimistic about the ability to begin production domestically by the previously set 2019 deadline.
In fact, what this decision has done most clearly is slowed down the production of domestically grown medical cannabinoids (although potentially not by much) while giving officials at BfArM a rather nasty black eye that might yet lead to further legal action.
It also means that there will be another bid process. In the meantime, the ex-im market is, if anything, taking off.
This is a Shock And Opportunity – but not a Surprise
No matter the opinionated emails and IM’ing going on in several languages all over the world right now about the implications legally in the future, the major producers are all taking this in stride. And appear to be well positioned to respond.
According to Dr. Pierre Debs, the managing director of Spektrum Cannabis (the global medical brand of Canopy and based just south of Frankfurt), who responded to CannabisIndustryJournal a day after the court decision, the company is not affected by this development. “Spektrum has a steady and constant supply and we do not anticipate any problems supplying patients through their pharmacies,” he says. Debs received the first German medical import license to bring Canadian cannabis into the country a mere two years ago and has continued to carve a leading path in the discussion across Europe. “In addition to our supply from Canopy Growth Corp, our partnership supply agreement with Alcaliber in Spain will see Spektrum importing sun-grown medical cannabis products starting towards the end of the summer,” says Debs.
But it is not just the big guys in the mix anymore. And there are many who see opportunityto a situation, which is frustrating.“As the second-largest country by population in Europe and a leader within the EU, the German market represents a new frontier for the cannabis industry in general in the region,” says Zlatko Keskovski, chief executive officer of NYSK Holdings, a Macedonian firm now in its second harvest of GMP-certified cannabis and holding EU export rights.
For such firms, even though NYSK is a surprise entrant to the conversation this year and outside the EU, the current situation represents an unbelievable chance to enter a market literally starving for qualifiedproduct. The firm is currently looking for German distributors who cannot access medical grade cannabinoids via other routes including attending the ICBC in Berlin in April. “This year’s ICBC looks to be a seminal moment for NYSK,” says Keskovski. “We have taken the appropriate steps to ensure our high-quality standards have led to products that our customers, and eventually patients, can rely on. We look forward to the chance to showcase our achievements that we’ve worked so hard for. The ICBC will also present us with the opportunity to meet with potential distributors and future partners.”
German Patients are Going to be on the Front Lines of This Discussion
The difficulties that German patients have already faced in obtaining a drug that is now legal in their own country for medical use (and even for recreational purposes across an open border in Holland) are legion. While to a certain extent, German patients are in the same boat as patients elsewhere and their problems, in fact, there are still huge access issues that remain. For starters, the drug is much more expensive here, so those without health insurance approval face bills of about $3,000 per month. Why the eye-watering price? All medical grade cannabis is still imported, although increasingly this is now just via other EU countries, not just from Canada.
“One of the reasons we organized the national German Patient Roundtable is to give patients a voice in all of this supply and demand discussion and to help BfArM and others formulate workable solutions for all,” responded Philip Cenedella IV when reached for a response by CIJ. Cenedella, an American expat and the organizer of the Roundtable, a nationally focussed, umbrella group that is kicking off its campaign this year, spoke for many who are far from court and boardrooms where the decisions are being made.
“While there are very talented firms who will now take up this discussion with the government and reissue a response for the tender, what we continue to see on the ground is that patients simply do not have the access granted them in the law which was passed over a year ago,” Cenedella says, with more than a note of frustration. “We again are calling on all government officials, industry executives and patient advocates to band together to immediately establish workable protocols that directly help the patients.”
Indeed, despite the frustration and delay, if not new costs and opportunities that this decision creates, one thing is very clear on the ground here. The current status quo is unacceptable. That alone should also put pressure on the powers that be to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. And via several routes, including widening import quotas or even issuing new licenses as a new solution to domestic cultivation is implemented.
“Patients are not being served and do not have access to a medicine that has been proven to improve lives,” says Cenedella. “Our simple request is for BfArM to finally invite patients into their discussions, to work with patients to formulate workable cultivation and distribution solutions, and we humbly request that this happen now before they go down another dead-end road, ending in another court defeat, and resulting in even more delays to the patients that are still lacking the care afforded them by the German Federal Court’s decision of 2017.”