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One drugmaker bets the farm on cannabis

Posting in Cancer

Medicinal marijuana is not just for pain and nausea. British drug company GW Pharmaceuticals is confident that medicine made from cannabis can also treat conditions as diverse as diabetes, colitis, and epilepsy.

The company’s entire drug pipeline is derived from pot that it grows at an undisclosed location in southeastern England. With $52.2 million in annual sales, GW is literally betting the farm on cannabis. Businessweek reports.

Right now, GW is the only drugmaker in the world selling a prescription medicine derived from marijuana plants -- and not a synthetic equivalent. Other companies developing pot-based medicines have used synthetic versions of chemicals that are either identical or similar to those found in the living plant.

Sativex is a mouth spray that treats spasms associated with multiple sclerosis. It contains THC, the only one of an estimated 60 chemical compounds in marijuana that can make smokers get high. It’s been approved in eight countries (and a request for U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval is pending).

But GW is taking aim at a potentially much-bigger market:

  • This year, the company plans to launch second-stage clinical trials of a cannabis-based drug to treat Type 2 diabetes, by improving insulin production and lowering blood-sugar levels between meals. Patients could be controlled on oral therapy for a longer period of time, without taking injections. This could be GW’s first blockbuster.
  • They’re also developing pot-based medication to treat inflammation in ulcerative colitis.
  • Together with Japan-based Otsuka Pharmaceutical, GW is working on a drug to treat epilepsy.
  • The company is also carrying out further studies on Sativex that could lead to its use for treating pain in cancer patients. (These newer drugs won’t contain THC.)

[Via Businessweek]

Image: Franz Eugen Köhler via Wikimedia

— By on July 25, 2013, 6:24 AM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure