Could the UK become the cannabis capital of the world? In a sense, yes. The Telegraph’s business section reports on the UK becoming a contender as one of the world’s biggest cannabis growers for pharmaceutical extracts. That’s because GW Pharmaceuticals is gearing up for FDA approval of the CBD epilepsy medication Epidiolex.
The leading biotech company is increasing its cannabis production in anticipation of the life-saving drug being made available to children with severe seizures. GW Pharmaceuticals successfully launched the world’s first cannabis-derived prescription drug, Sativex, in 2010.
Clinical trials for an evidence-based mainstream medication
In randomized trials, the use of the CBD medication reduced seizures by up to 42% in children with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. CBD was well-tolerated with no dangerous side effects. GW pharmaceuticals will be filing for FDA approval this year, and the drug may be available by early 2018. Currently, the company produces enough cannabis to treat 40,000 patients. But a dramatic production increase will be needed once the treatment becomes available to patients worldwide.
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GW is committed to growing cannabis for medicine
Chief executive Justin Gover said his company is committed to increasing cultivation in the UK as well as production and manufacturing. British Sugar grows the biggest part of the cannabis crop needed for producing Epidiolex in an 18-hectare glasshouse in Norfolk. It is the size of 23 football fields put together, and is the biggest in the UK. Tomatoes were previously grown in the glasshouse, but the cannabis crop could yield a much better return. British Sugar and GW Pharmaceuticals signed a long-term agreement last year.
GW will invest a further £30 million by 2020 to triple it’s manufacturing output at its plant in the South East where compounds are extracted from the cannabis plants to produce Epidiolex. This will lead to the creation of more jobs. GW already employs 425 people in the UK and keeps recruiting, said Gover.
Investors consider the biotech firm to be a potentially good holding, and share prices have more than doubled in the last year. GW has been licensed to grow cannabis for medicinal use since 1998. The UK became the first country to approve a prescription medication obtained from cannabis in 2010.
When Sativex was developed, it was argued that a whole plant extract would be more effective than isolated compounds. The “entourage effect”, postulated more than two decades ago by Prof. Mechoulam may well prove to be true. Regretfully, it would be difficult to obtain recognition for such a drug since the action of all the compounds in cannabis is not yet fully understood.
CBD epilepsy medication vindicated
For many years, we have been hearing about parents of epileptic children who have turned to CBD oil in a desperate attempt to curb intractable seizures in children who don’t respond to traditional medications. These parents have often been vilified for giving their children a cannabis extract, but the results obtained with Epidiolex have vindicated their decision.
Although Epidiolex isn’t a whole plant extract, it will at least make CBD epilepsy medication that could save young lives more freely available. With GW Pharmaceuticals gearing up for large-scale production, it is hoped that there’ll be enough of the drug to meet the pressing needs of thousands of children around the world.