UK Cannabis Industry Watch: January 2023

Will a busy January for the UK cannabis space lead to meaningful changes in 2023?

by Megan Townsend

It’s been far from a quiet start to the year for the UK cannabis industry. If you’ve been out of the loop, allow us to fill you in on some of the stories from the first month of 2023 that caught our eye. 

Health Economics Paper

In September 2022 it was announced that the research subgroup of the Cannabis Industry Council (CIC) were working on funding a full health economic analysis on medical cannabis and chronic pain, with the view to proving that medical cannabis could be introduced to the NHS at ‘net-zero cost’. 

The study, led by the University of York, would compare the costs of medical cannabis with traditional chronic pain treatments and consider the cost and outcomes across a one year period. At the time the study was still in need of part funding in order to get started as soon as possible.  

Thankfully, mid-way through January it was announced that the study was ready to get underway, as funding had been successfully secured from a range of backers including Glass Pharms, Ethypharm and Rua Bioscience, and an industry crowdfunder. Drug Science have also offered to make their T21 project data available to researchers. The study is set to be completed in the first half of 2023, so watch this space for more information. 

A picture of the NHS England building UK

NHS England’s HQ

Twenty21 to T21

Drug Science’s Project Twenty21 will be continuing for a fourth year, now under the name T21. The cannabis patient registry programme grants eligible patients access to medical cannabis treatment at a discounted price, and use patient-reported data to achieve their goal: for the NHS to cover the cost of treatment with medical cannabis.  They have announced new partners Canopy Growth (under the Spectrum Therapeutical medical brand) and Ethypharm to the project. After announcing earlier in the month their departure from T21, Lyphe Clinic clarified to its current T21 patients that its Noidecs range will remain capped at £5 per gram per 30 grams. 

Celadon Pharmaceuticals receives MHRA approval 

In other exciting news, this month Celadon Pharmaceuticals announced that its Midlands facility had been registered by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) manufacturing of its medical cannabis product. This approval is a compulsory requirement for Celadon’s further commercialisation of its product which is supplied in oil form. 

Currently the UK medical cannabis market is reliant on imported cannabis, which can be accompanied by lengthy delays and high costs. It is hoped that the approval of UK-based facilities will help to overcome these issues. 

Before the company can move forward with the production and supply of its active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) the Home Office must confirm the approval and update the organisation’s licence. Celadon’s current licence only allows for the production of test batches which were used to support their application to the MHRA. Whilst there is no guarantee that the Home Office will update the company’s licence, and no set time frame for this, Celadon’s directors have stated they are confident that the licence will be updated in due course. 

Full NHS reimbursement for a patient at Zerenia Clinics

Also announced in January was the first full reimbursement by the NHS of costs related to a cannabis-based medication and clinic fees for a patient Zerenia Clinics, owned by Khiron Life Sciences. Whilst many details have to be confidential the company could reveal that the patient suffered from a ‘debilitating’ but ‘common’ condition and was referred to the clinic by their specialist consultant to explore medical cannabis treatment options. 

The NHS does not automatically reimburse costs associated with the prescribing of unlicensed cannabis-based medicines. However, individual trusts can apply for funding via the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) . The clinic has stated that an Individual Funding Request was made to the CCG, but that it wasn’t directly involved in this task. 

Alfie Dingley is 1000 days seizure free

And perhaps some of the best news to come out of the first month of the new year was the announcement that Alfie Dingley has now been 1,000 days seizure-free. Alfie and his mother Hannah Deacon took to social media to share the momentous milestone alongside a message for their supporters. In 2018, Alfie’s doctors received the first permanent schedule one medicinal cannabis license in the UK, which enabled them to prescribe the medicine Alfie had received in Holland under prescription. He then went onto receive the first NHS prescription when the law changed in November 2018.

In the message, Hannah and Alfie thanked all those who had supported them on their journey, but also highlighted that NHS prescriptions for medical cannabis are still few and far between, meaning there is still much more work to be done. They are still working to reach 1 million signatures for their petition for NHS access to medical cannabis for other patients across the UK, as well as fundraising for MedCan, which supports around 600 families with children who still don’t have the same NHS access. 

January has been a busy and transformational month for the medical cannabis industry. It’s clear that there is still a continued focus by stakeholders across the space to make medical cannabis available on the NHS to those who need it. With the UK’s medical cannabis industry still in an early phase of development and approximately 1.4 million patients still using the illegal market to medicate, 2023 is a key year for the country and the industry to grow the legal medical programme.

You can keep up to date with the latest industry news from Volteface on our website and with our podcast, Volteface TV. Our latest episode discusses why many UK politicians aren’t publicly supporting drug policy reform. 

This piece was written by Volteface Intern Megan Townsend. Megan is a current MA Criminology student at Birmingham City University. Tweets @megant2799.

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