GW Pharmaceuticals grows cannabis in the UK.
The UK could become the world’s biggest grower and processor of cannabis plants destined for use in prescription medications after one of the country’s most promising biotechs announced plans to ramp up its production of the plant.
GW Pharmaceuticals, which in 2010 launched the world’s first prescription cannabis-derived drug in the form of multiple sclerosis treatment Sativex, is boosting cultivation and manufacturing of the crop this year ahead of the launch of another promising experimental drug called Epidiolex, which has shown to be hugely effective in treating children with a deadly form of epilepsy.
The British company plans to file Epidiolex with US regulators this year, and approval could come early next year.
GW has developed an experimental treatment derived from the cannabis plant for a deadly form of childhood epilepsy.
GW currently has capacity to manufacture enough of the drug to treat 40,000 patients a year, but this will need to increase as Epidiolex hits the global market.
Justin Gover, the company’s chief executive, has previously said that GW is committed to expanding manufacturing and cultivation in the UK.
The lion’s share of the cannabis plants are already grown domestically, with most harvested by British Sugar at its 18-hectare glasshouse in Norfolk - the largest in the UK and equivalent in size to 23 football pitches. There, British sugar swapped tomato plants for cannabis seedlings after signing a long-term contract to supply a non-psychotic variety of the crop to GW last year.
Epidiolex being manufactured.
In addition, GW will spend £30m over the next three years to more than triple capacity at one of its manufacturing facilities in the South East, where it takes compounds in the cannabis plants and turns them into Epidiolex.
“This will lead to job creation,” said Mr Gover. “We already employ 425 people in the UK and continue to recruit.”
UK-headquartered GW is widely considered one of the country’s most promising biotechs and its share price has more than doubled over the past year.
GW was granted a licence from the Home Office in 1998 to grow cannabis plants for medical use and in 2010 the UK became the first country in the world to authorise a prescription medicine derived from cannabis.