Cann Group chief executive Peter Crock had a remarkable recovery after being told he would almost certainly die from cancer. Supplied
"It's a miracle I'm still here. There's no other way to describe it." Peter Crock, the chief executive of medicinal cannabis company Cann Group has been at the helm of one of the best performing floats of 2017, but in the lead-up to the ASX listing went through a private hell that he wouldn't wish upon anyone.
It was late November 2016 and a persistent cough and a general feeling of listlessness was troubling him. It was found to be whooping cough, but further tests brought grim news.
Mr Crock was diagnosed with melanoma, the type of skin cancer familiar to most Australians but it had already spread to his liver, lungs and spine. He was in deep strife. "You're in a diabolical position," were the chilling words from his doctor.
About 50 lesions had been discovered on his liver and the prognosis was extremely dire with his doctor being very frank. "He didn't expect me to make Christmas last year," Mr Crock tells The Australian Financial Review.
He lost 15 kilograms of weight in four weeks and was sleeping 14 hours a day in December 2016. Just six months earlier he had been appointed chief executive of Cann Group with backers including former Nufarm chief executive Doug Rathbone. Cann's chairman is Allan McCallum, who is also chairman of salmon and seafood group Tassal.
"Clearly it wasn't part of his grand plan to have the CEO drop off the perch before the new year," Mr Crock said of Mr McCallum, who he praises profusely for his stoicism and caring nature during a hectic and emotional time.
But 13 months on things are much brighter. Mr Crock is in remission and is once again leading one of the brighter lights of the ASX-listed medicinal cannabis sector, which soared on Thursday after the federal government said it will allow the local industry to export.
Cann's stock surged 35 per cent on Thursday to an all-time high of $3.90, and now has a market capitalisation of $515 million.
Through medical connections, Mr Crock was able to access a clinical trial using immunotherapy drugs, which use the body's own immune system to help fight cancer. They ended up being successful.
"I'm in a full remission basically," he said.
Extra juice each fortnight
Mr Crock, 52, still has "extra juice" pumped into him every fortnight at his oncology centre but is extremely grateful for his second chance. His wife Kate and four boys aged between 26 and 20 have been pillars of support.
The treatment when he was gravely ill was several double doses of nivolumab (marketed as Opdivo) and ipilimumab (marketed as Yervoy), three weeks apart. He is now on a fortnightly nivolumab treatment for two years under the expert watch of oncologist Professor Phillip Parente, working out of Epworth Eastern hospital at Box Hill in Melbourne.
Mr Crock said at the time of his treatment he was reading about the recovery of Australian Football League player Jarryd Roughead, who plays for Hawthorn, after immunotherapy treatment. He was also very familiar with the recovery of Melbourne businessman and Rich Lister Ron Walker who had immunotherapy treatment.
"Not everyone has the same response," he said.
Mr Crock returned to work at Cann Group in February last year and soon after Cann became the first company to receive a medicinal cannabis licence for research and cultivation from the Office of Drug Control. It raised $13.5 million in an initial public offering priced at 30¢ a share and on the first day of trading it had more than doubled to 64.5¢.
Cann harvested Australia's first commercial medicinal cannabis crop in August and in December raised $59 million from institutional investors to help fund a state-of-the-art greenfield development including a large glasshouse cultivation space, manufacturing facility and research laboratories. It will be a 16,000 square metre development and complements two existing facilities in Melbourne which form the basis of the Cann operations.
Heavy in irony
Mr Crock, knee deep in the day-to-day running again of the business, is alert to the deep irony and parallels of his own personal battles and the benefits stemming from new approaches to medicine and treating disease by the pioneering work in medicinal cannabis. It has reinforced the importance of the work Cann and other medicinal cannabis companies are doing, but has also brought a new sense of perspective.
"It does give you a different perspective and where things are at,"
Mr Crock said.Mr Crock said it was for the market to decide what value to put on a company's stock price but he did concede there was a substantial element of blue sky in the price, with investors excited about the future upside.
"It's definitely got some future expectations in there," Mr Crock said.
He won't say where the location for the new 16,000 sq m development will be located, with the company examining a site in regional Victoria and also one in outer Melbourne.
The new facility is expected to be fully up and running by mid-2019. Mr Crock is optimistic about the future of the medicinal cannabis industry in Australia, and says Canada and Israel are good benchmarks about the future growth of the local industry and what can be achieved.
"That's why we can extrapolate and see where things are headed," he said. "I think it can be pretty well modelled about where things will end up." Canada's Aurora Cannabis is a major shareholder in Cann Group.
Cann has 28 direct employees. Mr Crock says there is a real sense of purpose inside the company. From time to time he reflects back on the dark days of late 2016 when he was confronting the worst. His brother John, a plastic surgeon in Melbourne, came into the hospital late one night after the liver lesions had been found and prayed because his brother appeared beyond help.
But the immunotherapy worked, and a humbled Mr Crock is relishing his second chance.
Originally published here: http://www.afr.com/business/agriculture/crops/ceo-of-cannabis-firm-canns-return-from-deaths-door-20171226-h0afgy