‘We expect to see more and more acceptance of medical cannabis as a potential treatment option’

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Business Leader recently spoke to Paul Steckler, General Manager of UK/Europe at Spectrum Therapeutics, a medical cannabis company about the growth of the industry, the challenges it is facing and what the future holds. Paul comes from the pharma sector, with over 20 years of experience in commercial roles, having worked as a Commercial Director at Pfizer for 15 years. Spectrum is currently conducting research into the use of medical cannabis for pain and opioid dependency.

Can you give an overview of the company?

Canopy Growth is a world-leading diversified cannabis and cannabinoid company driven by a passion to improve lives, end prohibition, and strengthen communities.

As head of Canopy Growth in Europe, my focus is on the continued growth of Spectrum Therapeutics – our global medical brand. At Spectrum, we have leveraged our global experience to offer a complete range of high-quality medical cannabis products based around an easy-to-understand colour-coded classification system that simplifies the understanding of medical cannabis and helps healthcare professionals and patients communicate clearly about product selection.

While our principal offering in the UK and Europe is through Spectrum Therapeutics, we also cater to a range of consumers in the region with our portfolio of brands including Storz & Bickel who manufactures world leading medically approved vaporisers, as well as This Works, our skincare and sleep brand which offers 24hr wellness solutions.

As we work to scale our European business, I am also leading the growth of our medical and consumer-focused brands in Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region. Within these regions, we’re advancing our Spectrum Therapeutics, This Works, and Storz & Bickel offerings in addition to our rapidly growing BioSteel sports hydration brand.

How has the medical cannabis industry changed around the world in recent years?

I feel lucky to have witnessed a dramatic shift over the past several years, where individuals and healthcare professionals are increasingly seeing medical cannabis as a viable treatment option, especially for those struggling with unmet medical needs.

As an industry, we have an incredible opportunity to support this continued progress including through patient and clinician education, and in doing so we can transform the way that people understand and experience this powerful plant. At Spectrum Therapeutics, we’re proud to serve patients globally with high-quality products while also advancing clinician education programmes to support healthcare professionals in understanding the potential of medical cannabis.

And specifically in the UK?

In 2018 we saw the rescheduling of medical cannabis in the UK which meant that these medicines could be prescribed by a select number of specialised physicians. This rescheduling highlighted the increased acceptance of cannabinoid-based therapeutics as a potential treatment and opened the door for patients to legally access medical cannabis products for the first time.

The credit for this progress goes to the patients who have forged the way for our industry in the UK and around the world by advocating for – and winning – initial access including rescheduling. It’s now time for the industry together with regulators to continue this progress and at Spectrum, our focus is on providing timely, consistent, and increased access to high-quality medical cannabis products.

What are the main challenges facing the industry?

As a brand-new industry we continue to face challenges due to stigma and restrictive regulations however I believe we’re continuing to make important progress. For the industry to continue its advancement, we need further clarified regulations around  the importation and prescribing of medical cannabis as well as consistent educational resources for healthcare practitioners.

When we reference medical cannabis patients in the UK, we’re really discussing those that have exhausted all other therapeutic avenues. While rescheduling has been a significant step forward as some are now receiving the treatment that they want and need, many patients are still struggling to gain access and we must continue exploring ways to support enhanced access. As an example, this could include updated regulations enabling General Practitioner physicians to prescribe medical cannabis and Spectrum is proud to engage with regulators and governments to advocate for these as well as other important changes.

Regarding the need for consistent education, Spectrum has taken a leadership role and created local and international education programmes to standardise the dissemination of education to physicians. These courses are critical to help healthcare professionals gain comfort and increased understanding of the potential for medical cannabis as a therapeutic option for their patients especially as essentials of medical cannabis – such as the endocannabinoid system – have not traditionally been taught in medical schools.

Are there still some societal perceptions that need to be changed for the industry to become more widely accepted?

The demand from patients and from healthcare practitioners is helping to drive the change we are seeing around the world. The rescheduling in UK – and in other countries – for medical cannabis has been a major step in the right direction for recognising these products as a legitimate treatment and has supported the reduction of stigma around cannabis-based treatments. We are committed to ensuring all stakeholders, from Government to clinicians to patients are comfortable with, and see the benefit of legal medical use.

What can the government to do help?

There are a number of opportunities for government to help patients who need access medical cannabis. A re-assessment of regulatory guidelines to enable greater access for patients is an essential starting point and, there is also an opportunity for the greater use of real-world evidence in supporting the development of clinical guidelines.

When we look at other successful medical cannabis markets such as in Canada or Germany, we see General Practitioners being able to prescribe medical cannabis to their patients and believe this is a model that can be supported in the UK especially when paired with education around its potential use.

What future trends do you see in the sector?

From a medical perspective, we expect to see more and more acceptance of medical cannabis as a potential treatment option. As more countries, physicians, and patients recognise the potential of these products, we expect to see the increased consideration including for medical cannabis as a substitute for products with challenging safety profiles such as opioids.

More broadly, we believe more people will begin to see the value of cannabis as part of their wellness regime however in this area our focus is on the markets that allow cannabis products to be sold for adult use. In addition to their medical applications, these cannabis products have immense potential to help us achieve our desired states – be it better connecting, managing of stress, unwinding, or getting a better night’s sleep. We are pioneering a revolutionary approach to meet these needs through our investments in research and are developing products that address these specific need-states.

What are the future plans for the company?

In the UK and wider European market, our focus is serving patients through Spectrum Therapeutics with high-quality, safe medical cannabis products. As we support these patients to improve their quality of life, we will continue to offer best-in-class educational resources to the healthcare professionals who are treating them. We will also continue to collect real-world evidence which can offer insights into the use of cannabis medicines and how they can further help patients in the future.

Globally, Canopy Growth remains committed to our vision of unleashing the full power of cannabis to improve lives. In addition to our continued advocacy for legal access to cannabis products, we are are investing heavily in insights and innovation as we seek to transform the way that people see and experience cannabis products.

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