AFT Pharmaceuticals' founder and managing director Hartley Atkinson says he's having ongoing discussions about getting involved in providing medicinal cannabis products but the current tough regulatory environment doesn't make it very attractive.
"The regulatory climate at the moment is tough and it doesn't make it very attractive, but that can rapidly change," Atkinson told analysts on a conference call.
AFT would only be interested in medicinal cannabis, not the recreational use of the drug, he said.
"At this stage, commercially, it's not that attractive due to the regulations but they're being looked at."
Parliament passed legislation last year to improve access to medicinal cannabis and introduce quality standards for products. The Ministry of Health is designing the framework for how the law will operate to enable domestic commercial cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis.
The government is planning to hold a referendum on personal cannabis use at the next election and Justice Minister Andrew Little has said the questions will require a yes or no answer.
Although the government is calling it a "binding" referendum, it can't commit a future government to that.
Currently, those wanting to prescribe, supply or administer most medical cannabis products need ministerial approval.
AFT's major product is the non-opioid painkiller Maxigesic, a patented combination of paracetamol and ibuprofen, which is sold in 20 countries and has been registered in 42.
Its annual report released today notes that concern is mounting around the world and especially in the United States about the overuse of prescription opioid medicines.
"The death rates in the US resulting from opioid overdose has now exceeded the peak death rate at the height of the AIDs epidemic," the report says, citing the US National Center for Health Statistics.
"A key problem is that patients start on opioids in hospital and are then discharged with an outpatient script leading to addiction problems in a proportion of patients," it says.
"Maxigesic IV and tablets offer an alternative non-opioid analgesic thereby creating new options for post-operative pain management."
It says the epidemic has turned attention in Australia and New Zealand onto codeine formulations.
From February 1, 2018, medicines containing codeine became prescription-only in Australia after clear evidence of significant misuse.
Atkinson said that quite a lot of the market "seemed to disappear" in Australia after that came into force, something he attributes to stock-piling of up to a year's supply and because many patients asked their doctors for prescriptions.
A similar change in New Zealand is potentially "a game changer" for AFT. "New Zealand seems to be one of the last markets in the world to reschedule codeine," he said.
MedSafe is proposing restrictions on the sale of products containing codeine from January 31, 2020 but it would still allow over-the-counter sales of products containing no more than 15mg per pill, a maximum daily dose of 90mg and packs of no more than three days supply.
A medical cannabis firm, Cannasouth, is in the process of raising up to $10 million from a share sale and will list on NZX if it can raise at least $5m.
The Waikato-based Cannasouth plans to use the funds raised for research and development, investigating sites to build commercial operations and to take on staff.