A TOTALLY different type of drugs company is hoping to offer investors an alternative type of high yesterday, after announcing plans to take a pot-shot at a public listing.
GW Pharmaceuticals, the only UK company with a licence to grow cannabis, hopes to float to success on the London market with proposals designed to get a totally chilled response from City institutions.
The company, which is developing the world’s first cannabis-based medicine for multiple sclerosis patients, is seeking admission to the Alternative Investment Market at the end of June, in a move that could value it at £170 million.
The Salisbury-based firm was founded in 1998 and has already run clinical trials for treatment of multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury and rheumatoid arthritis.
It wants to raise £16 million from the listing to expand clinical trials and up its international reach.
Cultivation and production facilities will also be increased. It currently produces 15 tonnes of cannabis in secret locations in the UK each year and aims to increase that to 100 tonnes.
Its MS treatment entered large scale phase III trials this month and if the final tests are successful, legally prescribed cannabis could be available as early as 2004.
The prescription drugs will be incorporated into a range of products, which will be delivered using an under-the-tongue spray, a fast-dissolving tablet or an inhaler.
However GW said users are not expected to get the "high" normally associated with cannabis use.
GW is the latest in a handful of European biotechnology companies to test the initial public offering market again after a funding drought in recent months.
Executive chairman Dr Geoffrey Guy believed investor interest would be strong, not only because of the business proposition but because many backers had sympathy with the product.
He added: "There are very few people who do not know somebody who knows somebody who is already benefiting from this medicine illicitly."
Dr Guy also added that the proposed product launch could have wider consequences, commenting that "the lay debate will always take note of the scientific debate".
GW says patients have recorded relief of pain, spasms, spasticity and bladder-related problems after using the cannabis-based products.
The group operates under a Home Office licence permitting it to cultivate, produce, possess and supply cannabis for medical research purposes.