High quality and affordable New Zealand-grown cannabis medicines could be available for patients next year after the country's largest company in the sector secured a new commercial licence.
While the medicinal cannabis industry may play an important role in the nation's economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Ministry of Health's Medicinal Cannabis Agency has granted Helius Therapeutics (Helius) the licence to cultivate and process active cannabis ingredients. The company said it applies to its 8800sq m state-of-the-art medicinal cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility in East Tamaki.
The New Zealand-owned biotechnology company's new production facility is one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.
In a statement to the Herald, Helius chief executive Paul Manning said the licence means patients can expect high quality, affordable and NZ-grown cannabis medicines as soon as early next year.
The licence allows Helius - the country's largest licenced producer - to cultivate an unlimited number of cannabis plants, including high THC and CBD cultivars. It will also see a number of proprietary varietals yielding valuable minor cannabinoids at the Auckland site, the company said.
"As the first major cannabis player to gain such a licence at scale, this is a significant milestone for the country's sunrise medicinal cannabis industry," Manning said.
"We will now shift gears from two years of research and development towards commercial production, bringing locally grown and manufactured cannabis medicines to both domestic and export markets."
During the past two years the company has secured $35 million in funding from local investors and achieved a market capitalisation of $105m.
This has seen funding for research, top scientific and pharmaceutical talent and the development of exclusive technology agreements in drug manufacturing and delivery.
Earlier this year the company also received a grant from Callaghan Innovation to support $2.4m in new research and development.
"We've committed significant resources to local clinical studies," Dr Jim Polston, the chief science officer at Helius said.
"Our aim at Helius is to develop some of the world's most advanced, efficacious cannabis medicines – and to do so from New Zealand. This country has the potential to become the next big player in the global medicinal cannabis market."
Polston said with the impacts of Covid-19 pandemic, the medicinal cannabis industry is "poised to play an important role in the nation's economic recovery".
The global market for medicinal cannabis is forecast to reach $55 billion by 2025.
Kiwis will also vote at the rescheduled October 17 election on a non-binding referendum over whether the recreational use of cannabis should become legal, based on the proposed Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill.
Cannabis-based medicines can already be prescribed by a doctor in New Zealand.