Under Construction: Pharma's Cannabinoid Bid
The cannabis business is booming as century-old legal conventions restricting use begin to unravel. Can pharma ride the wave with cannabis-based medicines? And how will drugmakers entering the fray deal with the dosage, delivery and bioavailability challenges?
James Strachan |
In 2017, The Medicine Maker took stock of the surging interest in medicinal cannabis and cannabis-based medicines. Two years on, the trend continues... Since the beginning of 2017, Germany, Cyprus, Greece, Mexico, Peru, Luxembourg, Lesotho, Malta, Portugal and Zimbabwe have legalized cannabis for medical use, as well as five more US states. Denmark, Belize, plus the US states of New Mexico and New Hampshire have also decriminalized the drug, while Canada, South Africa and the US states of Vermont and Michigan have legalized cannabis for recreational use.
With recreational cannabis legal in 10 US states and medical cannabis legal in 32 states, cannabis has become big business. One study found that, in the US, manufacturers and distributors, on both the recreational and medicinal sides, created 64,389 new jobs in 2018 – making it the fastest-growing labor market in the US (1). Sales of recreational cannabis are expected to grow 18.4 percent yearly, from $3.2 billion in 2018 to $12.5 billion in 2025, while sales of medical cannabis are expected to grow 11.8 percent per year from $5.1 billion in 2017 to an estimated $12.5 billion in 2025 (2).
But what about cannabis-based medicines? With medicinal cannabis becoming more widely accepted, will an increasing number of pharma companies seek to explore the therapeutic potential of the plant? Or does the “medical” or “medicinal” label only create confusion (and competition) for companies whose products are held to much higher standards of evidence by pharmaceutical regulators?
The FDA approval of GW Pharmaceuticals’ Epidiolex was seen as a watershed moment for the industry, potentially ushering in a new era of cannabinoid medicines. Indeed, a number of companies are now addressing the manufacturing challenges of working with the cannabis plant to create safe and effective cannabis-based pharmaceutical drugs: is extraction or chemical synthesis the way to go? What about bioavailability? What about regulatory hurdles?
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