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Start-up Funds Univ. Medical Cannabis Research

Cannabis plant

Cannabis plant (Michael Fischer,

10 Jan. 2018. A developer of therapies derived from cannabis is sponsoring a 3-year basic and translational research program, including clinical trials, at Imperial College London. Financial details of the agreement between Emmac Life Sciences plc in London and the university were not disclosed.

Emmac Life Sciences is a start-up enterprise, incorporated in March 2018 to develop therapies derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, also called marijuana. The National Library of Medicine in the U.S. says some 80 chemicals, known as cannabinoids, are associated with these plants. One of those chemicals, cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating derivative, makes up about 40 percent of cannabis extracts and has been studied extensively for a range of disorders. In June 2018, the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. approved Epidiolex, a cannabidiol formulation to treat 2 severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.

In the agreement with Imperial College London, Emmac is funding research on mechanisms in the body of cannabis-derived treatments, starting with pain and cancer. The research program also plans to conduct preclinical studies exploring other potential therapies from cannabis for chronic pain and cancer, as well as spasticity, the continuous contraction of muscles usually caused by brain or spinal cord damage. In addition, the research is expected to investigate cannabinoids as treatments for acute pain, nausea, and vomiting.

The program includes a clinical trial of cannabinoids to relieve pain, nausea, and vomiting among patients undergoing major hepato-pancreato-biliary or HPB surgery involving cancer and other diseases in the pancreas, liver, gallbladder and bile duct. That study is being conducted by the clinical trial unit at Imperial College, and is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2019.

The program at Imperial College is led by Nagy Habib, professor of hepatobiliary surgery. Habib studies new treatments for liver cancer, and worked with gene therapies, bone marrow/stem cell transplants, RNA therapies, and radio frequency devices in liver surgery.

“Translational research lies at the heart of our academic aims at Imperial College London,” says Habib in an Emmac statement, “and our first collaborative project illustrates the potential scope of cannabinoids to improve the quality of life and outcomes of patients undergoing surgery. As we gain a greater understanding of the therapeutic properties for a range of clinical conditions, this research will inform a portfolio of basic science work packages.”

At the time of the approval of Epidiolex in June 2018, FDA’s commissioner Scott Gottlieb noted that the agency will continue to consider new drugs based on cannabis, if as in the case of Epidiolex, they meet rigorous standards for efficacy and safety.  “We’ll continue to support rigorous scientific research on the potential medical uses of marijuana-derived products,” said Gottlieb in an agency statement, “and work with product developers who are interested in bringing patients safe and effective, high quality products.”

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