The Australian Federal Government has provided a $466,000 grant to the University of Melbourne to fund research into therapeutic cannabinoid selection and extraction methods.
UoM’s research will be carried out in partnership with Under The Tree BioPharmaceuticals (UTT BioPharma), a company with an office in Melbourne specialising in the research and production of botanicals-based medicines.
The project aims to select the best clones from a range of cannabis strains for yield of certain therapeutically beneficial cannabinoids, plus develop a pilot-scale extraction and separation process suitable for scaling up to commercial production.
“The isolation of minor therapeutically-active cannabinoids from cannabis at pilot scale would establish a commercially competitive Australian industry and lead to a superior position in the global marketplace,” according to the project description.
The funding was announced Wednesday by Education Minister Simon Birmingham.
“We’re backing this project because we can see the clear benefits of having local medicinal cannabis production and a local supply chain for the many patients that stand to gain from the use of medicinal cannabis products,” Senator Birmingham said.
Medical cannabis production is still very much a nascent industry in Australia and it will be some time before locally made products are available. It was only very recently Australia’s first legal medical cannabis crop was harvested.
In the interim, an import scheme announced in February will be implemented to go towards meeting local demand. However, it appears those medicines could be very expensive; denying access to many patients who need them.
A white paper published last year estimates at least 8,000kg of medicinal cannabis needs to be produced annually in Australia to meet local demand, but it should be noted the figure was based on whole plant therapies, rather than extracts. The document estimated the local market was, at the time, potentially worth A$100-150 million a year.
“We hope that a competitive domestic medicinal cannabis industry will provide biomedical scientists with the raw materials they need to find the next medical treatment, without the need to obtain medicinal-grade cannabis from overseas,” said University of Melbourne’s Dr Monika Doblin.
Federal legislation to enable the safe, legal and reliable supply of medical cannabis products in Australia and cultivation of crops locally was passed more than a year ago.