By Richard Fletcher
Oxford Natural Products, which is developing a multiple sclerosis treatment from cannabis, is drawing up plans for an Aim flotation which will value the business at up to £100m.
Unlike rival GW Pharmaceuticals, which floated on Aim last year, ONP does not have a licence to grow cannabis in the UK. However, the company has a joint venture arrangement with the National Centre for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi, which is the only licensed grower of cannabis in the US.
Alongside its treatment for multiple sclerosis, ONP is also developing ONP-17, a treatment for Hepatitis-C. The drug, which is composed from extracts of traditional Chinese and Western herbs, is due to enter clinical trials this year. The company is also developing a treatment for dysmenorrhoea - painful menstruation - from Chinese herbs.
Christian Hoyer Millar, chief executive of ONP, plans to use the funds raised from the float to take ONP's portfolio of drugs through to clinical trials.
GW Pharmaceuticals has had a bumpy ride since it made its debut last year at 182p. At one point the shares, which are now worth 121.5p, hit a low of 67p. About 25 per cent of prescription drugs are derived from plants, but the acceptance of herbal medicine has been held back by the lack of standardisation of plant products.
The same herbs can differ dramatically in their potency, which is of huge concern to drug regulators. However, ONP has developed technology - called TQP - to ensure the consistency of plant ingredients. Alongside drug discovery ONP also hopes to generate revenue by licensing out its TQP technology.
Investors in ONP include Novartis, the Swiss drugs giant, and Zurich's
Sustainable Asset Management. The company was founded in Oxford in 1998.
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2002