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Cannibidiol is All the Rage – Is Pharma Getting in on the CBD Craze?

Posted on August 14th, 2019 by in Pharma R&D

Few substances on earth have been surrounded by more confusion than marijuana. Harmless plant or illicit drug? Medicinal or recreational? Legal or illegal (or partially legal)? And what should we make of all these things associated with marijuana, like hemp and CBD oil?

Marijuana has been on a long, tortured march towards legalization across the U.S., but because each state has its own rules, and both state and federal policies can change based on who is in power, the pharmaceutical industry has largely kept its distance. But, with attitudes and laws rapidly changing, some pharma and biotech companies are exploring the possibilities of pot.

A big first came in 2018 when, according to Stat News, Novartis became the first major medical company to get into the medical marijuana business when its subsidiary Sandoz partnered with Canadian marijuana company Tilray. It’s a relationship that will enable Sandoz to enter this growing market in dozens of countries where it is already legal, and Tilray benefits from the credibility of an internationally-recognized brand, along with its supply chain and distribution network.

Though most other companies have yet to make such a bold move, many are nonetheless getting ready for a time when cannabis is finally legal throughout the United States by researching medical applications. “They may not be able to patent natural molecules like CBD, but derivative molecules and unique production formulas are potential areas of proprietary technology,” writes Teresa Rivas of Barron’s.

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a part of the marijuana plant (unlike THC, it does not create an intoxicating effect) that has become ever-present in states where it’s legal. Offered in everything from brownies and smoothies to sprays and lotions, CBD is being treated as a sort of natural cure-all meant to help with pain, stress and much more. While there is not nearly enough evidence yet to warrant all the hype, there is clearly something to it, as the FDA recently bestowed its first approval for a drug containing CBD when it gave the okay to GW Pharmaceuticals’ Epidiolex, a treatment for seizures.

Meanwhile, other drug makers are also looking into uses for CBD. “Scientists are anticipating easier access to the drug for research since a bill signed late last year removed hemp-derived products like CBD from the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances,” explains Roni Caryn Rabin in the New York Times. Rabin reports that biopharma Leaf Vertical is investigating CBD’s ability to enhance cancer therapies, and other researchers are exploring whether it might be able to treat inflammatory diseases, autism and schizophrenia.

Another way pharma companies could capitalize on the cannabis craze would be to develop a synthetic CBD. “The first company to create and patent a CBD compound would command a serious edge in this fast-growing industry,” writes Alex Somjen in Green Entrepreneur. “Companies like CannBioRex Pharmaceuticals are in race to be the first in the industry to design and develop pharmaceuticals that board-certified doctors will feel comfortable prescribing to their patients, potentially generating billions of dollars in sales.”

As marijuana continues to lose its stigma, increasingly gains legal status and enjoys greater appreciation for its medicinal properties, pharmaceutical and biotech companies are sure to benefit enormously by unlocking the curative potential of cannabis and offering it to patients for medical purposes.

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