Gary Mead talks to Geremy Thomas, CEO of Sativa Investments - quoted on Aquis Stock Exchange and the UK's first medicinal cannabis investment vehicle.
Under the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1971, Schedule 1 drugs are deemed to have no medical value. The main psychoactive constituent of cannabis sativa is tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. THC is just one of more than 100 cannaboids in cannabis sativa and another - cannabidiol (CBD) - not only has no psychoactive effects but it has beneficial effects in the treatment of types of epilepsy. A landmark was crossed in the US on 25 June 2018, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a cannabidiol oral medicine, called Epidiolex by its maker, GW Pharmaceuticals, used in the treatment of Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome - two forms of severe childhood-onset epilepsies that hitherto have lacked effective treatments. Thomas was well aware of the various exchanges he could use to float Sativa and chose AQSE to debut. "As an investor in a number of AQSE stocks I was already interested in the exchange." Sativa joined in March this year and the experience has, as Thomas says, been "very positive. When we first quoted I was asked when I thought medicinal cannabis would become available in the UK and I said two to three years, but the regulatory mood has changed remarkably fast, thanks mainly to pressure from public opinion."
The UK is rapidly catching up with developments in North America. Public opinion massively swung behind medicinal cannabis use in the UK in the past summer, following the high-profile cases of Billy Caldwell and Alfie Dingley, two young boys with sever epilepsy whose symptoms have been successfully treated with CBD.
The straws in the wind are already blowing. The regulatory environment and how medicinal cannabis is treated, legally, is an all-important factor in the future not just of Sativa but all companies in this market. Thomas says that Sativa is “very fortunate to have Sir Alasdair Breckenridge as an adviser on our Board.
Sir Alasdair chaired the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency [MHRA] and working with the rest of our advisers we have secured access to a working group within the MHRA, so we feel encouraged with the information flowing from the Home Secretary’s office and, on a first hand basis, that there is preparatory work going on to confirm the details of how this new industry will work.”
There is a great deal of speculation about how big the medicinal cannabis market might eventually be. The Marijuana Business Daily estimates that the total US marijuana market – both medicinal and recreational – was $4bn in 2016 and will reach $11.9bn to $17.1bn by 2021. The European market is set to follow suit. On 21 September, Sativa entered a joint venture with German based Lexamed GmbH to form Sativa Germany GmbH, which will secure German wholesale, import and export licences for the distribution of medicinal cannabis products. “In March 2017 when the German medicinal cannabis market first started, there were 500 prescriptions written; in June 2017 there were 5,000 prescriptions written,” said Thomas.
Sativa has made investments in two Canadian companies; Veritas Pharma, which is involved in researching strains of cannabis, and Rapid Dose Therapeutics, which has developed an oral strip technology for better drug delivery. The journey for Sativa, as outlined by Thomas, is “from seed to consumer. We want to grow it, we want to extract from it the bits we want to use, we want to test it, and then we want to brand it and sell it. We have a pan-European view and when the UK comes online we will be ready to exploit the opportunities here too. My job is to ensure we have a very strong team to exploit those opportunities.”
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