A new UK task force, headed up by leading figures in medicine and life sciences, will set out the country’s first comprehensive strategy for cannabinoid research and development.

Professor Trevor Jones, formerly Head of R&D at Wellcome and Director General of The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), has said the UK has the potential to be a ‘global leader’ in the development of cannabis-based medicines.

Jones was speaking following the launch of The UK Cannabinoid Research and Development Group (CRDG), of which he is co-chair, alongside Conservative Party candidate, George Freeman, the UK’s first Minister for Life Science and former Minister of State for Science & Technology. 

Bringing together academics, researchers, clinicians, patients and industry, the CRDG will develop and execute the first strategy for cannabinoid research and development since the rescheduling of medical cannabis in 2018.

The focus will be on integrating universities, research institutions, businesses, and the NHS, to advance the understanding of cannabis and its derivatives, as well as winning over government and investors. 

“I’m passionate in the belief that the future of cannabinoid research is in getting data through clinical studies,” said Jones, who has spent his career developing pioneering pharmaceutical drugs.

“There is a huge amount of anecdotal data, but we need proper research and development — and that will create a platform for better investment.”

It is hoped that Jones’ relationships with key figures at the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA), as well as Freeman’s “track record for accelerating access to medicines” will help to fast-track cannabis-based medicines on the pathway to market authorisation and get them in the hands of patients sooner. 

“During the pandemic we realised there’s an urgent need to get good medicines to patients as fast as possible,” said Jones.

“We’re in discussions with regulators to establish what they want to see to ensure it’s safe enough and that it works, to then get it on the market and get it out there.”

Professor Trevor Jones CBE.

Building on the success of GW Pharmaceuticals 

The UK is already home to one of the major players in global cannabinoid research, GW Pharmaceuticals, manufacturer of two out of just three cannabis-based products for medicinal use which have been approved for prescription. 

The country also saw the second highest number of cannabinoid-related clinical trials over the last decade, making up 13% of all trials globally— the majority of which were linked to GW.

“We’ve got a very good research base here, and not just in the social history of cannabis, but in clinical studies, international experts and the investments we’ve already made,” said Jones.

“We’re bringing all that together and we want the government to get behind it, as well as talking to the investment community to get them to understand the uniqueness of the opportunity.”

The new task force is initially supported by seven industry partners, all of which are engaged in clinical research on cannabinoids and indications such as endometriosis, psychosis, autism spectrum disorder and chronic pain. 

Jones identified these companies as those well-positioned to build on the success of GW, which sold to Jazz Pharmaceuticals for over $7 billion in 2021, in what was described at the time as the “world’s largest cannabis deal”.

“These companies are very good examples of those which could be future GW’s… there’s every possibility that they could turn around that kind of success,” he said.

“I’ve been involved with venture capital for many years and I see this as an opportunity for Britain to really track, as these companies get more established.”

Appealing to all political parties

The task force was co-founded by Paul Birch and Steve Moore, who also set up the Medical Cannabis Alliance (formerly the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis) and the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry. 

With a change of government imminent, Moore believes the initiative will be welcomed by “any political party”. 

“Any incoming government has got to focus on growth and our life sciences sector is one of those areas they would want to be looking at,” he commented.

“Nothing significant has happened in terms of medical cannabis regulation in the last five years… and given the fact that there is no political momentum or public clamour for legalising cannabis in Britain at the moment, this is the only direction it can go.”

He added: “GW has been a remarkable success story… the real potential for economic growth lies in the traditional pharmaceutical approach.”

Industry partners of the CRDG include: Ananda Developments Plc, Artelo Biosciences, Inc, Curaleaf International, Kingdom Therapeutics Ltd, Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies Holdings Plc, NW PharmaTech Ltd, Phytome Life Sciences Ltd

 The CRDG will set out the country’s first comprehensive strategy for cannabinoid research and development.  Read More