Cannabinoid research speeding up its pace

In this month's editorial, I studiously avoided almost all of the easy and very tempting puns related to marijuana because the truth is that cannabis-related research is serious business these days; in fact, it long has been, but now it is getting more respect and attention

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There has long been a stigma attached to research into medical applications of cannabis. I’d see the occasional cannabinoid-related news release come through my inbox, but to be honest, in my earlier years on DDNews, most of them would be from the same kind of crackpot folks that would insist that eating some certain kind of food will cure cancer—any cancer. When something legit-seeming came through, it felt like someone hesitantly stepping into the room and speaking so low I almost didn’t notice they were there.
As researchers have become more interested and less self-conscious about working with derivatives of marijuana and its various cousins, I’ve seen more news about cannabinoid research and more boldly presented. There are still some companies out there with specious claims and so much rhetoric and hyperbole that I almost want to encourage them to smoke a joint and chill out, but mostly, it’s above-board.
And with the recent legalizations of recreational marijuana use becoming common enough now that they probably constitute a trend, I feel like almost all the stigma on the research side has lifted away. Since November, I’ve gotten news from at least six different companies and one academic collaboration related to mainstream cannabis R&D efforts, which is about the same as what I’ve seen for news on Parkinson’s disease R&D. And while it may seem odd that I use that comparison, I think it’s apt. There are certain therapeutic areas that are important but that we don’t often get a chance to cover in DDNews because they aren’t as active as, say, Alzheimer’s, cancer or cardiovascular/metabolic disease. We’ve covered cannabinoid research at slowly increasing levels in the magazine since at least 2010, and I think it’s something you can expect to see more of, even if I doubt it will ever be a mainstay of our coverage.
Some of the things that have come through my inbox lately:
  • AXIM Biotechnologies Inc., a company involved in hemp cannabinoid research and development, announced the issuance of a patent for use of cannabinoids in cannabinoid-containing controlled-release chewing gum products and not long after announced the start of a irritable bowel syndrome trial with one such product as the therapeutic.
  • GW Pharmaceuticals plc, a biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering, developing and commercializing novel therapeutics from its proprietary cannabinoid product platform, announced results from two completed Epidiolex (cannabidiol, or CBD) Phase 3 trials, one in Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and one in Dravet syndrome.
  • In the first-ever attempt to include phytocannabinoids from additional natural sources apart from those derived from Cannabis sativa, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the University of Córdoba, the Università di Napoli Federico II, the Università del Piemonte Orientale and Phytoplant Research S.L. have created a comprehensive, critical, integrated and unified inventory of phytocannabinoids of different botanical origin.
  • GB Sciences Inc. announced that its wholly owned subsidiary, Growblox Life Sciences LLC, had licensed intellectual property from Makai Biotechnology LLC—the 2015 patent underlying the license claims therapeutic methods for the treatment of cardiac hypertrophy and associated pathologies through regulation of the cannabinoid receptor TRPV1.
  • NEMUS Bioscience Inc. announced that an analog of CBD, developed by the University of Mississippi and formulated as an eye drop, was shown to enter the anterior and posterior chambers of the eye in animal models. Conversely, standard CBD, studied in parallel experiments, had negligible ocular concentrations. Nemus believes that this CBD analog could have clinical utility across a spectrum of eye pathology, particularly those associated with the posterior compartment of the eye.
  • Bedrocan in the Netherlands became the world’s first producer of medicinal cannabis to be compliant with the European Medicines Agency’s good manufacturing practice standards.
  • Kalytera Therapeutics Inc. entered into a deal to acquire all of the issued and outstanding securities of Talent Biotechs Ltd., a privately held, Israel-based developer of proprietary CBD therapeutics. Talent is advancing a Phase 2 clinical program investigating the use of CBD to prevent and treat graft-versus-host disease.
And you know, if my impressions from that wave of material aren’t enough, business intelligence provider GBI Research has also taken note of the subject, noting that despite legal restrictions limiting research into the medical applications of cannabis worldwide, a market for synthetic cannabinoid products is noticeably growing.
As noted in a fall 2016 white paper from GBI, a small number of pharmaceutical companies have brought products to market with the main active ingredient being one or more synthetic cannabinoids. The indications for these cover a wide range: anorexia nervosa related to HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis spasticity and nausea/vomiting associated with chemotherapy.
“More recently, products have been approved that contain cannabinoids extracted directly from the plant, as opposed to synthetic recreations, and there is extensive interest in cannabinoids for a variety of neurological disorders,” said Thomas Jarratt, an associate analyst for GBI Research. “Indeed, there are 90 pipeline cannabinoid products, including two in Phase 3 development.”
According to GBI, major advantages of developing cannabinoid products include cannabis’ various therapeutic uses and its very low toxicity. And it may be that cannabinoid products are more beneficial than commonly used analgesics, such as codeine, for the relief of mild to moderate pain.
“The vast majority of pipeline products are in early stages of development, with 74—equivalent to 82 percent of the pipeline—at the preclinical or discovery stages,” Jarratt said. The two products at Phase 3 trial stage are Epidiolex (mentioned earlier in this editorial), in development for treating various types of epileptic seizures, and Sativex (nabiximols), which is being trialed for anxiety disorders.
“As most of these pipeline products are in the early stages of development, GBI Research believes they are unlikely to make an impact on the market in the near future,” Jarratt concluded. “However, this demonstrates the increasing attention being turned towards cannabinoids as a promising active pharmaceutical ingredient.”

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