Call for pharmacists to get ahead of medicinal cannabis surge

New Zealand’s over 3,500 practising pharmacists need to urgently familiarise themselves with medicinal cannabis. Patient enquiries and demand are set to surge when Kiwi-made products come onto the market later this year, says one pharmacist who should know.

Charge pharmacist and co-owner at Ngā Hua Pharmacy in Hamilton, James Yu, has arguably processed more medicinal cannabis prescriptions than anyone in the country. He’s dispensed it to more than 600 patients in the past three years and counting.

“I’ve seen medicinal cannabis very successfully prescribed for the likes of pain, seizure control, anxiety, insomnia, and for rarer conditions. Most know about CBD and THC, but cannabis has dozens more compounds which could be harnessed to treat many different conditions. Science is starting to unleash its vast therapeutic potential,” he says.

Mr Yu’s now calling on his colleagues to prepare and upskill themselves for significant patient questions with local product availability the catalyst. Doctors will also be quizzing pharmacists.

“Often, the first point of call for enquiries about medicinal cannabis are pharmacists. That includes from doctors who field questions from their patients and then often ask their community pharmacist. Therefore, it’s critical that pharmacists understand medicinal cannabis, so they can give the appropriate advice. A lack of knowledge, otherwise, will only add a barrier to patients wanting to access medicinal cannabis,” he says.

The medicinal cannabis postgraduate is strongly encouraging pharmacists to take up two specific opportunities to learn more – both sponsored by Helius Therapeutics, the first medicinal cannabis business to gain a GMP Licence to Manufacture Medicines from the Ministry of Health.

Dubbed New Zealand’s medicinal cannabis information service, DATAPHARM’s newly launched is now online. Registration is free for doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. The education initiative also sees highly trained representatives on the road to better inform healthcare professionals about medicinal cannabis

Then on 12 and 13 October, Medcan 2021 Summit take places in Auckland. It will include a one-day Healthcare Professional Forum where experts will present on the endocannabinoid system, clinical data, the applications and prescribing of medicinal cannabis in medical practice.

“MedCan 2021 will contain the most up-to-date information for us as pharmacists. It is a fantastic way to network and meet other health professionals interested in all thing’s medicinal cannabis. At the same time, MCinfo is a great online platform to learn more about key aspects such as our endocannabinoid system and the different indications, dosages, and contraindications of medicinal cannabis,” says Mr Yu.

Past surveys of Kiwi healthcare professionals have confirmed medicinal cannabis knowledge gaps, yet those at the coalface report growing enquiries and demand. Mr Yu says patients are about to get even more interested.

“Having dispensed to over 600 patients, almost all of them at some point ask about a product’s country of origin. Given they’ve all been imported from overseas so far, many patients have made it clear they would prefer to buy and support local. Without doubt then, once we have Kiwi products, we can expect a whole rush new of interest,” he says.

Mr Yu says patients will ask in-depth questions about locally produced medicinal cannabis products. He says these could include the strength of the product, cannabinoid profile, terpene profile, and carrier oils.

“In the last three years I’ve been active in this field, I’ve seen a huge change in the views of many patients and doctors. Further, the continued interest in the therapeutic potential of medicinal cannabis will only grow. It’s important that we stay up to date with the latest knowledge and evidence surrounding medicinal cannabis.

“What’s more, interest and use will only continue to grow. With increasing awareness, research and time, I truly believe medicinal cannabis will change the paradigm of health and longevity,” he says.

As well as dispensing medicinal cannabis from his Hamilton pharmacy, James Yu is a member of Helius Therapeutics’ Expert Advisory Board – a role he values.

Call for pharmacists to get ahead of medicinal cannabis surge

“Helius’ vision and ethos are in line with mine. Not only do they want to tap into the endless therapeutic potential of medicinal cannabinoids, but they’re determined to improve patients’ accessibility. Importantly, they’ve secured both a GMP licence and the most innovative people in their respective fields,” he says.

Chief Executive at Helius Therapeutics, Carmen Doran, says the 100% New Zealand-owned medicinal cannabis company is delighted to have James Yu on its expert advisory board given both his extensive clinical knowledge and patient experience.

“Helius now has a GMP Licence to Manufacture Medicines and the best people to get the job done. Helius is also steadfastly committed to education and so we’re thrilled to be backing initiatives to better support the country’s pharmacists,” says Ms Doran.

DATAPHARM Director, Don Budge, says Mr Yu’s encouragement of pharmacists to upskill themselves on medicinal cannabis is appreciated given local products are imminent and pharmacists are an important and trusted touchpoint for patients.

“At the recent Independent Pharmacy Conference in Taupo, we were really buoyed by pharmacists’ genuine interest in learning more about medicinal cannabis. There are many now registered at MCinfo. They’re keen for a single trusted source of information with real-time access to medicinal cannabis’ ongoing global developments,” says Mr Budge.

Helius Therapeutics is the education sponsor of and is foundation sponsor for October’s MedCan Summit

Helius gains NZ’s first licence to manufacture cannabis medicines

New Zealand’s largest licenced medicinal cannabis company, Helius Therapeutics, has been issued with the industry’s first GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) Licence to Manufacture Medicines by MedSafe. It allows the company to begin manufacturing locally made medicines for New Zealand patients.

“This is our most significant milestone yet at Helius. The GMP Licence means Helius can now move forward to manufacturing high-quality, affordable Kiwi-made medicinal cannabis products. New Zealand doctors will be able to confidently prescribe in the knowledge that Helius meets stringent quality standards,” says Carmen Doran, Chief Executive of Helius Therapeutics.

Based in Auckland’s East Tamaki, Helius began the rigorous and complex journey for the GMP Licence as a start-up in 2018. Through an international recognition scheme, MedSafe’s latest approval also meets European standards, known as EU-GMP, opening future export possibilities for the 100% privately-owned Kiwi company.

By achieving the GMP Licence to Manufacture Medicines, Helius joins the likes of Douglas Pharmaceuticals. As well as being the first from the medicinal cannabis industry, Helius becomes only the 20th on Medsafe’s list of organisations licenced to produce medicine in New Zealand.

Helius gains NZ’s first licence to manufacture cannabis medicines

“The GMP licencing process has been exhaustive, and rightly so. We’re making medicines, so there is no room for cutting corners. Helius pulled together an internationally- experienced leadership team from both the pharmaceutical and medicinal cannabis industries to successfully achieve this level of compliance,” she says.

Ms Doran herself is no stranger to the world of pharmaceutical manufacturing. She worked globally with Novartis Pharmaceuticals for 10 years before consulting in the same area, particularly in start-ups and new technology, for the last five years.

Having raised $48m in capital since 2018, Helius has invested significantly in its 8,800sqm indoor cannabis cultivation and manufacturing complex. New Zealand’s largest purpose-built facilities are designed to achieve precision-controlled cannabis cultivation, extraction, purification, product manufacturing and analytical testing. 

“We’ve been pushing hard to build the facilities, procedures and systems that will ensure quality. Ultimately, that is what GMP is about – controlling all the factors that could influence the quality of our processes, so we know that patients will get exactly what their doctor prescribed, every time,” says Bruce Wallace, Chief Quality Officer at Helius Therapeutics.

Mr Wallace joined Helius at the beginning of 2020 and has been instrumental in guiding the team through setting up the processes needed to bring medicines to market. He brings 25 years of pharmaceutical experience in both human and animal health having previously worked for Merck in the USA. More recently he was Global Head of Quality for Argenta Manufacturing based here in New Zealand.

Mr Wallace says the GMP Licence certification covers a wide scope from facility design to the training of people. MedSafe assessed and approved the company’s manufacturing, packaging, labelling, testing, storage and distribution processes. Over time, the GMP Licence to Manufacture Medicines will expand to include other product types and other parts of the value chain. 

As a newly licenced company in a new industry, Helius can expect routine GMP audits to ensure its high standards are maintained. As it adds additional manufacturing capabilities to its licence, each new manufacturing process type will trigger a new audit. 

Mr Wallace says ongoing audits are positive for all involved.

“Having experienced, professional inspectors, such as the Medsafe GMP team, challenging your systems can only improve your processes and outcomes,” he says.

While Helius now has the necessary GMP Licence to Manufacture Medicines, products will also need to meet quality standards set by New Zealand’s Medicinal Cannabis Agency to establish safety, stability, and efficacy via the Product Registration process.

“The final step for us in being able to supply medicines is providing the Medicinal Cannabis Agency with data and evidence to demonstrate these products meet the required standards. That’s not easy, but absolutely necessary to ensure products are safe and effective. Helius views this as non-negotiable and in line with bringing other medicines to market.  We are, after all, talking about medicines for people and their loved ones,” says Mr Wallace.

Ms Doran agrees that patients and doctors need the utmost confidence that medicinal cannabis products prescribed are of uncompromising quality and safety.

Helius gains NZ’s first licence to manufacture cannabis medicines

“The Helius team has reviewed regulations and requirements for medicinal cannabis products in several major export markets. We can confidently say New Zealand’s standards are equivalent or higher than those overseas, and that’s a good thing,” she says.

As a leader in New Zealand’s newest industry, Helius acknowledges recent commentary that the country’s medicinal cannabis regulations are too hard and it’s taking too long for locally-made products to be approved. 

“We totally get it. There’s no time to rest until New Zealand patients have more treatment options. However, no one is dragging the chain here. Despite being a botanical product, it’s worth remembering that medicines typically take five to 10 years to develop and approve – and we are well ahead of that.

“In fact, we believe patients will have access to Kiwi-made products from later this year. All of us at Helius Therapeutics, MedSafe, the Medicinal Cannabis Agency, and the wider industry are working incredibly hard to make that happen,” she says.

Carmen Doran says Helius has built the team and facilities to get the job done, motivated by an unwavering commitment to improve patients’ quality of life. 

“The GMP Licence to Manufacture Medicines is the pivotal moment in being able to bring the first products to market. We are excited about these products as well as the novel therapeutics in the pipeline to come.

“It has been a tremendous effort from our founders, investors, and team to turn a vision into what is now a fully-fledged medicines production company. Being New Zealand’s first medicinal cannabis business to gain GMP certification and Licence to Manufacture Medicines is a huge win for Helius and we’re all incredibly proud,” she says.

Helius Therapeutics is the foundation sponsor of MedCan Summit 2021, which will take place on 12 and 13 October in Auckland.

New Zealand launches medicinal cannabis info service

/New Zealand/ New Zealand’s largest licenced medicinal cannabis company, Helius Therapeutics, has announced an exclusive partnership with DATAPHARM focused on delivering leading prescriber education programmes and resources.

New Zealand-owned DATAPHARM is well known for consulting to the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries and creating innovative product services.

Securing Helius as education sponsor, DATAPHARM will deliver in-person programmes nationwide and an online platform boasting the most definitive medicinal cannabinoid information in New Zealand.

“We know enhancing prescriber knowledge is key to ensuring greater patient access to medicinal cannabis. Helius is steadfastly committed to education and so we’re thrilled to once again be collaborating with the best in the business,” says Carmen Doran, Chief Executive of Helius Therapeutics.

Medicinal cannabinoids can now be prescribed by every GP in New Zealand, for any condition. Yet, according to a Horizon Research survey, 76% of healthcare professionals have reported a need to be better informed about cannabinoid medicines and how to prescribe relevant products.

The Ministry of Health also acknowledges that many health practitioners do not feel they have access to enough information to discuss medicinal cannabis with their patients, whanau or families, and make to effective clinical decisions.

Ms Doran says DATAPHARM has extensive experience working with doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. It knows first-hand what education tools and formats work best for frontline healthcare professionals thirsty for a single source of trusted, up-to-the-minute information.

Further, DATAPHARM has worked closely with the medicinal cannabis sector for the past three years, with Director Mark Morrison consulting to Helius since late 2020.

“There has been a vacuum of information in the medicinal cannabis space which our exclusive partnership with DATAPHARM now comprehensively fills. It’s an exciting development for the industry and most importantly patients, with Helius pleased to take the lead,” she says.

As well as Helius’ sponsorship enabling highly-trained representatives on the road to better inform healthcare professionals about medicinal cannabis, registrations to the newly-built will be strongly encouraged.

Dubbed New Zealand’s medicinal cannabinoid information service, is available to all patients and the public, with registration free for doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. In fact, several hundred have already registered with the stand proving popular at the GP CME (General Practice and Medical Conference Exhibition) in Rotorua from 10 to 13 June.

Last year Helius announced another exclusive partnership – with Palmerston North-based company BioLumic which leads the world with its unique ultraviolet technology to stimulate the growth of medicinal cannabis and significantly increase yields.

“We’re delighted to be exclusively working with another world-class Kiwi company to advance New Zealand’s medicinal cannabis sector, with patients and their quality of life at the centre of everything Helius does,” says Carmen Doran.

Poised for market entry, Helius has completed its state-of-the-art, integrated medicines manufacturing facility in Auckland’s East Tamaki, having raised $48m in capital since 2018.

Helius Therapeutics is also the foundation sponsor of MedCan Summit 2021 in October.