Australian medicinal cannabis research and industry get funding boost

Image of generic medicinal capsules.

University of Melbourne researchers have been awarded an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant to enhance production of cannabis for medicinal uses.

Working with UTT Biopharmaceuticals, the researchers aim to develop pilot-scale production of therapeutically-active compounds from cannabis, known as cannabinoids, which have potential applications in pain relief as well as relieving symptoms of MS and neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham announced the funding of $466 076 to scientists Dr Monika Doblin, Professor Tony Bacic, Professor Ian Woodrow and Professor Geoff Stevens from the University of Melbourne and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls.

Professor Bacic said with Australia’s strong history in agricultural science and natural product extraction, we have the opportunity to become a global leader in medicinal cannabis cultivation, processing and research.

“Cannabis has a long history with its use as a medicine dating back millennia," he said.

"The medicinal compounds we are interested in are produced at very low levels by cannabis plants, so the new funding will allow us to better understand which varieties are best for production of therapeutic compounds and which varieties will also grow well in Australian conditions.

“Working with UTT Biopharmaceuticals we will also be developing a process to extract the small quantities of these medicinal compounds and a procedure to scale up this production.”

Dr Doblin said legalising medical cannabis in Australia has the potential to create an industry estimated to be worth $100-150 million per annum and demand for 8000kg a year of plant material.

“This demand is expected to grow as more clinical trials are completed and new treatments are approved,” Dr Doblin said.

“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.”

Minister Birmingham said: “We are 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.

“Australian families and industry have the most to gain from better collaboration between universities and businesses and this project at the University of Melbourne is one of many we’ve announced funding for across the country since the start of our Linkage Projects program this year.”