Pharma company Althea Group (ASX: AGH) has unveiled a string of advances in the UK citing “significant progress” in securing a new patient referral agreement, further approvals for more clinic locations and an agreement with an independent scientific committee.
With respect to the UK, the company indicated it is making incremental progress and ultimately seeks to facilitate additional clinic locations for its subsidiary MMJ Clinic Group, also known as MyAccess Clinics.
In a statement to the market to this morning, Althea announced it had entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Drug Science, an independent scientific committee currently conducting the UK’s first national pilot for medical cannabis.
The initiative, dubbed “Project Twenty21”, aims to enrol 20,000 medical cannabis patients by the end of 2021 (despite being founded in November last year) and currently stands as Europe’s first and largest national medical cannabis registry.
Drug Science has stressed that Project Twenty21 is a “registry” as opposed to fully-fledged clinical trial; although, the overarching goal is to make a “powerful case for NHS funding”.
The new project is specifically seeking to determine the favourable risk/benefit ratio of medical cannabis in seven key identified conditions – anxiety disorder, chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, substance use disorder and Tourette’s Syndrome.
According to the Drug Science, the project will create the largest body of evidence for the effectiveness and tolerability of medical cannabis – with the aim of demonstrating to policymakers that medical cannabis should be as widely available, and affordable, as other approved medicines.
Under the terms of the MoU, Drug Science will refer patients to MyAccess Clinics for assessment by its prescribers and for subsequent inclusion and treatment in Project Twenty21.
The initiative also means that MyAccess Clinics prescribers will assess the full Project Twenty21 product formulary, although must pay regular consultation fees including an initial fee of £150 (A$275), followed by recurring £50 (A$90) consultations thereafter.
“Although Project Twenty21 aims to collect health outcome measures in cases of intractable epilepsy, for reasons outside of Drug Science’s control, we have been unable to subsidise the cost of medication for this condition,” the company said.
Althea added: “In the interim, if patients wish to seek cannabis-based medicinal products for this condition, they can receive treatment at a private medical cannabis clinic, but this will be outside the scope of Twenty21 subsidised costing, at this time.”
Moreover, as a means of appeasing policymakers and demonstrating cannabis efficacy, the project stipulates that medical cannabis clinics will only accept patients who have attempted two different licenced medications to treat their condition, both of which must have proven to be ineffective.
Importantly for patients, the MoU does not restrict the clinical freedom of MyAccess Clinics’ prescribers and is expected to diversify consultative care being offered to patients, as well as extending the funding of medicinal cannabis from within the public purse.
According to Althea’s chief executive officer Josh Fagan, Project Twenty21 will not only create additional patient consultation opportunities for Althea’s clinics, “but will also yield valuable data that can be used to strengthen the case for wider use of cannabis-based medicines and the need for reimbursement through the NHS.”
“We are very pleased with the progress MyAccess Clinics is making in the UK, despite the challenges caused by COVID-19,” he added.
Despite the extensive negative impacts on business activity as a result of COVID-19, Althea said it has remained resilient and “continues to see strong growth” across MyAccess Clinics’ key metrics.
According to Althea, over the past two months, MyAccess Clinics received almost double the number of web-based enquiries, increasing from 339 to 673.
There was also a significant rise in month-on-month patient consultations, which were up 50% over the same period. Possibly as an indicator of rapid patient acceptance, prescriptions posted a 94% conversion rate, counting from the time of completed patient consultation to final prescription for medical cannabis.
Furthermore, COVID-19 has also accelerated MyAccess Clinics’ roll-out of its “telehealth” services, a means of allowing prescribers to conduct video consultations with patients located anywhere in the UK.
More clinic locations
MyAccess Clinics can provide telehealth services following the receipt of its care quality commission (CQC) licence obtained late last year.
The CQC has also recently approved five new clinic locations – bringing the total number of MyAccess Clinics up to seven.
In addition to the existing clinics in London and Bristol, MyAccess Clinics has also been approved for a second location in London as well as clinics in Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.
“Approval of the CQC licence was a significant milestone in the Company’s UK expansion plans and it has provided further regulatory acceptance of cannabis-based medicines being used as a treatment option,” Althea said.