Michael Winlo says there is a gap in the market for companies researching the effectiveness of medicinal cannabis. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira.

Emerald targets green medicine growth

Thursday, 24 October, 2019 - 11:34

With mainstream acceptance for cannabinoid medicines growing, Emerald Clinics has found value in building clinical evidence of its use.

Public attitudes towards medical use of cannabis may have shifted in recent years, but Emerald Clinics chief executive Michael Winlo says the industry still suffers from a maturity problem.

Mr Winlo spent more than three years overseeing development of novel therapies as chief executive of Linear Clinical Research before joining Emerald Clinics this past August.

Emerald was founded in 2018 and operates as a clinical researcher of cannabinoid medicines, with facilities in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.

Mr Winlo said the industry’s lack of reliable clinical research was contributing to broader confusion over its effectiveness in a medical setting.

“The narrative has been around growing techniques, warehouses and production, but not the end product,” he said.

“The supply chain is actually quite complicated, because growing it is one thing, but converting it into a medicine is another.

“When companies talk to the market, they’re talking about scale, but they’re not necessarily talking about building clinical evidence.”

That dearth of reliable research was the key reason Mr Winlo joined Emerald.

Unlike other businesses in the space, the company does not grow or produce cannabis but instead monitors patients and collects data to establish standards for clinicians and cannabis producers.

Emerald Clinics commercial director Adam James told Business News the business was formed to cut through the general confusion between how marijuana is consumed recreationally and medicinally, with an opportunity to create a body of research that could speak to its use in a clinical setting.

“What we initially thought was [to] learn from every single patient who comes through about how the medicine is working,” Mr James said.

“That was to improve access, but also inform producers on how they can make better medicines and inform doctors on how they can provide better care.”

According to figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Wellness, 85 per cent of Australians approve of medical cannabis use as of 2016, up from 69 per cent in 2013.

In Western Australia, the use of medicinal cannabis is highly regulated, with doctors required to go through state and federal authorisation processes to prescribe specific products and doses.

However, many international markets are less regulated, with doctors simply allowed to authorise patient use of cannabis.

That creates problems, Mr James said, because it had the potential to confuse the drug’s recreational and medicinal uses.

“It also means doctors who are seeing these patients have a challenge in figuring out why patients are better if they are, because they don’t have control of [what patients are taking],” he said.

“Australia’s unique in that we can control the input, because we’re writing scripts, and we have good quality medicine coming in, so it’s the perfect place to generate the evidence of where medicinal cannabis is best used.”

The cannabinoid medicine industry has gained momentum in WA this past year, with ASX-listed AusCann Group Holdings purchasing its own research and development site for $5.3 million in January.

Emerald Clinics chair and Business News 40under40 winner Stewart Washer has previously worked for AusCann as vice-president of business and development.

In addition, Mr Washer also chairs cannabinoid-based medicine developer Zelda Therapeutics, which announced its intention to merge with US-based Ilera Therapeutics earlier this month to expand its opportunities in international markets.

Given the industry’s growth globally, Mr James and Mr Winlo said Emerald Clinics stood apart from competitors because it didn’t focus on the retail and agricultural aspects of cannabinoid use, but rather its clinical value.

“We have a situation where prescribers are reluctant to prescribe it, regulators are reluctant to open the floodgates, and insurers don’t want to cover it but patients want it,” Mr Winlo told Business News.

“Producers want to get patients, but they’ll need evidence before the product is widely used, and there’s a gap in the market for that.”

With the business expected to list on the ASX before the end of the year, Mr Winlo explained that with the market for cannabinoid medicines and therapies now becoming mainstream, there were myriad opportunities in companies seeking to research and establish clinical value in the medicines.

“The therapy has given us an opportunity to test this model, but … we don’t have a horse in the race,” he said.

“If this proves to be ineffective for a large amount of patients, which I don’t believe we’ll find, that doesn’t affect our story or ambition because we’re about getting to the truth of the matter.”