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Research & Development Pharmaceutical, Medical research

Pharma Takeover: Under Construction?

In 2017, The Cannabis Scientist 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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About the Author

James Strachan

Over the course of my Biomedical Sciences degree it dawned on me that my goal of becoming a scientist didn’t quite mesh with my lack of affinity for lab work. Thinking on my decision to pursue biology rather than English at age 15 – despite an aptitude for the latter – I realized that science writing was a way to combine what I loved with what I was good at.

From there I set out to gather as much freelancing experience as I could, spending 2 years developing scientific content for International Innovation, before completing an MSc in Science Communication. After gaining invaluable experience in supporting the communications efforts of CERN and IN-PART, I joined Texere – where I am focused on producing consistently engaging, cutting-edge and innovative content for our specialist audiences around the world.

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