Pharmaceutical-grade medicinal cannabis ‘global shortage’ to be met with Australian product

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An Australian medicinal cannabis company is working to address a global shortage of pharmaceutical-grade product, reducing cost and improving access at the same time.

Key points:

  • THC Global has been granted licence by the TGA to produce pharmaceutical grade cannabis
  • The move is predicted to mean Australian-produced medicinal cannabis will become more affordable
  • Figures suggest there are at least 200,000 patients in Australia eligible for high-grade medicinal cannabis products

The federal Therapeutic Goods Administration’s Special Access Scheme, which authorises approved doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis on a patient by patient basis, has been operational for just over two years in which time Australian demand has continued to grow.

More than 3,100 scripts had been approved by the TGA from March 2018 to January this year but the industry has claimed that number has since risen to just under 9,000.

Associate professor Dr Vicki Kotsirilos from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners — the first authorised GP prescriber of medicinal cannabis in Australia — said national demand for medicinal cannabis was currently almost entirely supported by imported product.

“The earlier products have been imported products because these products were being used widely overseas before Australia,” she said.

Publicly listed Australian company THC Global is aiming to change that after it was this month granted a licence by the TGA to produce pharmaceutical grade cannabis at a property in Bundaberg, Queensland.

Group Chief Executive Ken Charteris said Bundaberg was the perfect environment to commence production.

“We’ve now got the complete suite of licences that includes growing and development of plants all the way through to an active medicine for the Australian market initially and obviously to export,” he said.

“Right now there’s a shortage globally for pharmaceutical GMP produced product.

“We’re really at the forefront with the capacity growing plants here to meet the shortage and forecast shortage for the next several years of high-grade, good manufacturing practices”.

Rapid growth in demand to be met by unique strain

The industry has claimed Australian Government figures suggested there were at least 200,000 patients who should be eligible for high-grade medicinal cannabis products.

Mr Charteris said Australian demand had started to catch up to that seen on the international scale.

“Canada now has over 350,000 patients, Israel is in excess of 35,000 patients for a population of eight million,” he said.

“The numbers for Germany and Europe are in the millions. Here in Australia it’s developing really rapidly”.

He said there had already been international interest in the unique breed being grown in the region.

“We’re totally geared up to meet export needs globally because we are doing good manufacturing practices certified product and that will be going to various parts of the world including Europe and ASEAN nations,” he said.

The company’s manager of cannabis strain development and agronomy John Hall said the Bundaberg crops had been bred to have higher levels of cannabidiol (CBD) which had no psychoactive properties.

“It’s technically an industrial hemp plant still because their THC is below 1 per cent but we’ve been able to quadruple the CBD content,” he said.

“We will extract the CBD and produce an oil with all of the CDB and with a very small amount of THC”.

Less cost, more jobs

Dr Kotsirilos said the increase in production would mean Australian-produced medicinal cannabis would become more affordable.

“At the moment the imported medicinal cannabis products prices tend to vary but on average they are about $300 to $350 per bottle which could last for about a month,” she said.

“My understanding from the current Australian product is they’re available at $200 a bottle which is much more affordable”.

Chief executive Ken Charteris said the Bundaberg facility, which will form part of a larger operation, would also include an extraction facility.

“This site alone will go up by at least five to eight people in agriculture, extraction will probably go up by three or four,” he said.

“When all our facilities come up and running (including Southport and Ballina) we’ll have in excess of 300 employees spread throughout Australia”.

Promising but not always ‘wonder drug’

Although demand for the product has grown Dr Kotsirilos said it was only prescribed once alternatives were exhausted.

Who can get medicinal marijuana?

“It’s not always the wonder drug. People often think it’s the wonder drug but it doesn’t always eradicate pain and in rare cases we do see side effects,” she said.

“Once we have decided the need for the trial then we go ahead and apply for a permit where the form goes to the TGA and State Department of Health. It usually takes about 48 hours for a permit.

“There is some evidence but the evidence is not strong and we need more research”.

Mr Charteris said the granting of the licence was the first step to facilitating more scientific research.

“Us getting up to this level will increase the level of available research. At the moment the material is be pretty restricted, there’s not a lot out there,” he said.

‘We’ll be producing oils initially and then capsules and all the other methods of applying medication, but a full production facility will now give access to a lot more scientific research”.

The first medicinal cannabis products are expected to be released in the final quarter of this year.


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