Beyond cannabinoids: Big Pharma enters medical marijuana alliance in Canada

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

Sandoz Canada has formed a strategic alliance with medical cannabis supplier Tilray for the distribution of non-smokable products.

According to the binding letter of intent (LOI), Tilray will collaborate with Sandoz on all key business, supply, legal, marketing and sales aspects of the proposed alliance.

Sandoz Canada is an affiliate of Sandoz International – the generic pharmaceuticals and biosimilar arm of the Novartis Group.

Sandoz spokesperson Isabelle Troïtzky told us definitive alliance agreements have not yet been determined.

“Once the alliance is in effect, initially, Tilray capsules and ingestible oil products will be offered for sale under doctor’s authorization directly to patients in Canada via mail order, as this is the current process in Canada.

“Subject to future regulatory changes, Sandoz Canada will wholesale and distribute co-branded – Sandoz and Tilray – non-smokable/non-combustible medical cannabis products to Canadian hospitals and pharmacies,” ​she told us.

Tilray’s product do not have drug identification numbers (DINs), because they do not make therapeutic claims on the label and have not been submitted for DIN approval to Health Canada, Troïtzky explained.

This is the case for all cannabis products presently available under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations​ (ACMPR), we were told.

Medical cannabis in Canada

Medical cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2001.

According to Health Canada’s Consumer Information – Cannabis​ document, physicians may authorise medical cannabis for relief of a number of symptoms, including severe refractory nausea and vomiting associated with cancer, loss of appetite and body weight in cancer patients one HIV/AIDS, and symptoms encountered in the palliative/end-of-life care setting. 

Currently, patients in Canada can only legally access medical cannabis products through mail-order with federally-licensed medical cannabis producers.

“In the future, it is likely these regulations will change to allow patients to access medical cannabis through pharmacies in addition to thae direct mail-order system,” ​a Tilray spokesperson told us.

“The Canadian Pharmacy Association supports this change, and Canada’s largest pharmacy chains have been advocating for it,” ​he added.

And cannabinoids?

Despite the increasing legalisation​ of medical cannabis, pharmaceutical firms remain largely focused on cannabinoids in the marijuana space.

In the past year, pharmaceutical developments have included Teewinot​’s growing cannabinoid production patent portfolio, InMed Pharmaceutical​’s gel-based cannabinoid drug for eye diseases, and opioid active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) firm Noramco​’s move into cannabinoids.

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