13 June 2002
by Malcolm Withers, Evening Standard
GW PHARMACEUTICALS, the only company in Britain that holds a licence to develop cannabis-based medicines, is to increase the number of trials it is running to discover the medical benefits of the drug. It also co-operating with the National Addiction Centre to produce a revolutionary tamper-proof methadone dispenser for heroin addicts.
With up to 250,000 heroin addicts in Britain the Government is concerned about rising drug-related crime. One of the treatments for heroin addiction is methadone and currently 30,000 are being treated with it. However, the drug can be misused unless it is strictly administered. GWP's telecoms-based dispenser is claimed to do this.
GWP today added two new cannabis trials to its existing seven, taking the number of patients involved to 650. They will use cannabis-based treatments for multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, neuropathic pain and cancer pain.
Patients involved in the trials at hospitals throughout Britain will receive the drugs via a spray under the tongue. To check their effectiveness, some patients receive placebos. Earlier trials of the drug with 109 patients led to 88 completing the acute phase and 86 of them wanting to continue with the drug because it eased pain.
There is growing evidence that cannabis provides pain relief and the global market for treatments based on the drug could be worth £8bn a year. GW Pharma chairman Dr Geoffrey Guy believes some of the drugs will be submitted to the Medicines Control Agency for approval next year and they could be commercially marketed in Britain by 2004. Trials are also going ahead in other European countries.
The company's secret greenhouses 'somewhere in the South of England' produce six crops of cannabis a year weighing a total of 30 tonnes. A contract has just been signed with an unnamed third party to double production. The greenhouses are surrounded by electric fences and are under round-the-clock surveillance. The 102-strong workforce tends to be over the age of 40 and undergoes strict security checks.
In the six months to March, GW Pharma's losses amounted to £5.3m
with research and development costing £5.1m. The group has cash reserves
of £21.1m. Shares in GWP added 1p to 112p.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd., 13 June 2002