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How GW Pharma Could Use US Patents to Shape the Future of Medical Cannabis

March 16, 2016

When Britain’s GW Pharmaceuticals announced Monday that its cannabis-derived drug Epidiolex had successfully reduced seizures in children with a rare form of epilepsy, the news made headlines around the world. Investors snapped up shares of the little-known firm, effectively doubling the company’s market value overnight.

GW Pharma may be a new play for investors, but the Salisbury, England-based company is widely known in the cannabis world, where it enjoys the respect if not the love of many in the legalization movement.

That wariness has its roots in the 1990s (more on that below), but it continues to this day. And for good reason. GW Pharma is quickly becoming the world leader in FDA-approved cannabis medicine while American companies are effectively shut out of the game by their own government. Here’s the kicker: While two federal agencies (the Justice Department and the Department of Health and Human Services) actively prevent Americans from developing cannabis medicine, another agency (the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) is helping GW Pharma lock up the intellectual property rights to a broad swath of cannabis-derived medicines and techniques.

In other words: Epidiolex, the company’s epilepsy drug now moving through the FDA approval process, is only the beginning.

On its web page, GW Pharma lists a number of other pharmaceuticals in the development pipeline. Those drugs treat everything from glioma (a form of brain cancer) to diabetes and schizophrenia.

But the company is also, unbeknownst to many, applying for and receiving patents that cover substances and techniques already widely used in the cannabis world.

The company’s latest patent (No. 9,205,063), granted last December, covers the prevention and treatment of neural degeneration with a pharmaceutical formulation of cannabis obtained by running the plant through a common carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction method. The patent lists all the usual active components of cannabis: THC, CBD, terpenes, sterols, triglycerides, alkanes, flavonoids, etc.

The potential value of patent No. 9,205,063 is clear. GW Pharma is trying to claim ownership of cannabis as a drug in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

That’s one patent. There are many.

CBD Holds Promise as Child Epilepsy Treatment, Studies Find

No. 9,168,278, issued last October, is for the use of the cannabinoid THCV as an appetite suppressant in a weight loss medication. No. 9,017,737, issued last April, is for the use of CBD and other cannabinoids to prevent or treat psychotic disorders. No. 8,771,760 deals with the use of cannabinoids for constipation.

No. 8,790,719 is a big one. It makes an intellectual property claim for the use of plant-derived cannabinoids in the treatment of prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.

Some of these patents are pending. Others have already been issued.

The tension between GW Pharma and American cannabis culture goes back to the 1990s, when the U.S. and British governments both commissioned studies into the effectiveness of cannabis as medicine. The U.K. study was spurred by multiple sclerosis patients using cannabis to calm their spasticity. The U.S. study came in response to California’s passage of the first statewide medical marijuana law in 1996. Both studies reached a similar conclusion: Cannabis actually seemed to have a medical effect. Research by the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the U.S. government, showed that the plant held therapeutic potential for specific conditions, including epilepsy, chronic pain, and glaucoma.

The British responded by issuing a license to GW Pharma, a startup lab in Salisbury. GW was allowed to grow its own strains of cannabis and develop cannabinoid drugs. The license allowed the company to custom-breed its own strains, with higher or lower levels of various cannabinoids like THC and CBD. The result: a $1.9 billion company with drugs in the FDA pipeline and patents certified by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The Americans, meanwhile, responded by doubling down on the War on Drugs.

The Clinton administration dismissed marijuana’s potential as medicine and threatened to arrest any doctor who recommended it. To this day it remains federally illegal for any American company to grow its own strain of cannabis, even for research purposes.

Hence the tension. American cannabis growers, medical patients, and dispensary owners continue to risk arrest and imprisonment for conducting the same kind of work that investors are rewarding GW Pharma for today. The British company has yet to enforce any of its patents against American purveyors of botanical medicine. But it is now armed with patents backed by the full faith, credit, and power of the U.S. government. And if cannabis turns federally legal, the day of patent enforcement may arrive.

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  • rockstar

    Im all for companies developing standardised medicines but you shouldnt be able to patent cannabis.

    • Glenn

      The patent is for the possible cure/treatment of Epilepsy, chronic Pain and Epilepsy specially in children who’s seizures are not treated effectively treated with Dilantin and Phenobarb medications that make a Vegetable of the affected individual. I almost cried as a Nurse watching a baby seize over 50 times in a single day. She was so drained after puking and loosing bowels and bladder each time. But after one dose of CBD in lo dosing she maybe has a seizure on a infrequent basis once in a month. It’s a blessing to those who suffer!

      • buzz42

        still not necessary to patent

  • bm0422

    Unfortunately people won’t buy synthetic forms of cannabis that is marked up thousands of dollars and can kill you when you can grow the safe kind in the ground for free

    • Johnny oneye

      GWPHARMA #FEDLUBE #epidolex #SATIVEX are both
      “Whole plant” extracts!
      And Jindrich BAYER has also brought CANNABIDIOL into the spotlight with #CBD having
      “Anti psychotic capabilities ”
      Just sayin

    • James Peters

      Cultivation methods have been developed to reproducibly produce plants with defined cannabinoid concentrations. GW Pharmaceuticals have produced a number of standardised extract preparations including, Tetranabinex, which is high in THC, and Nabidiolex, which is high in CBD. Sativex contains equal proportions of Tetranabinex and Nabidiolex, and, hence, almost equal amounts of THC and CBD. THC and CBD represent approximately 70% of the product, with 5% of other cannabinoids, the remainder being terpenoids, flavonoids, sterols, alkanes, and other chemicals found naturally in the plants they use.

      • bm0422

        And will be marked up thousands of dollars….

      • rockstar

        Tetranabinex IS thc. And Nabidolex IS cbd. They are just brand names for the same compounds, like annadin and asprin.

    • Very true..

  • Lorrin Rodrigues

    I’ve been hearing on some websites that Big Pharma wouldn’t invest in the industry because as some say, “You can’t patent a plant”…tell that to Masanto! I predict that within the next 10 years Cannabis will become the primary revenue for companies like Mansanto that specialize in creating genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.s. I ‘d like to coin the process…Genetically Modified Cannabis, or G.M.C.s….although it sounds scary at first, if it saves lives I’m down!

  • Johnny oneye

    How can the U.S. government claim “cannabis has no medical value”?:
    #nojoke
    Even the UK government changed the scheduling of cannabis
    While GWPHARMA GROWS METRIC tons and farmer John gets probation
    Isreal isolated delta9 1960’s
    American response “give us some to test”
    NIDA is losing the monopoly on cannabinoid treatments
    And SATIVEX and #epidolex are two
    Whole plant CANNABINOIDS that’s what it will take for the FEDS to bend over #FEDLUBE
    25 states and counting
    Legalisation is about to smack congress and the FEDS In the face.
    This and the U.S. patent on cannabinoid medicine Is just a desperate attempt to keep the $tatu $ quo! #JIMCROW laws.
    #nojoke #endprohibition CANNABIS

  • Julian Castro

    Betrayal. Treason. Patenting and Prohibiting the essential cannabinoids cannabis provides is evil.
    But synthetic cannabinoids will never be as good as whole plant synergy. So go ahead GW Pharm, or any biopharmaceutical pop up with a few million to throw at patenting; By the time you can sue for your patenting rights, most states will be able to grow their own medicine, as Americans will finally understand that patented compounds are patently toxic.

  • B.Notti

    Its NOT cool that our government is allowing out of country companies to develop medicines from Cannbis because all the money paid for the drug(s) will go out of country…NOT the best way to go

  • Holt Webb

    Remember, despite our war on drugs and the current scheduling of cannabis as one of the worst and most dangerous drugs, the United States holds patent 6630507 on cannabis for its antioxidant properties because they know it will eventually be found to have benefits. Powerful people keeping the good stuff for themselves. Shady.

  • buzz42

    FUCK GW PHARMA. The drugs minister and the prime minister’s husbands profit massively from the sale of illegal cannabis in the UK/
    Paul Kenward, MD of british sugar grows 45 acres of it for GW, while users, both medical and rec, are still stigmatized and criminalized by the government that is quite happily flogging the stuff to other countries.

    Victoria Kenward/Atkins is the Drugs Minister in the UK who heavily opposes cannabis reform
    Philip may’s Capitol group owns many shares in GW Pharma
    Theresa may(prime minister)insists cannabis holds NO MEDICINAL VALUE–Holds enough bloody medical value for her to allow the export of NINETY-ONE TONS of the stuff EVERY YEAR.
    There is something insidious about these patents.

  • Erron Present

    GW epilepsy tincture is no different than any american made tincture. Don’t buy GW products if it doesn’t sell they make no money here and we can stop a foreign company from coming into the US and taking what we have worked so hard to create away from us. The USA doesn’t care about us, so lets show them they should. We control the outcome not them we are a loud and proud country made up of many. Its our money and our right to say FUCK YOU to GW Pharma/US Government and we should.