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What Curaleaf’s landmark EMMAC takeover means for cannabis in Europe

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Antonio Costanzo - CEO of EMMAC

Curaleaf has acquired EMMAC Life Sciences in a landmark deal valued at $285 million. Cannabis Health speaks with EMMAC’s CEO to find out what the acquisition means for the sector at large.

Curaleaf is the largest cannabis company in the US. Hitting $600 million in revenue in 2020, the company is aiming to reach $1.2 billion in 2021.

With ambitions to enter the burgeoning European market, the Massachusetts-based company has acquired EMMAC Life Sciences, one of Europe’s largest cannabis companies.

The European firm, which employs 190 people, currently imports its products to Germany, Portugal, Switzerland, Italy and the UK. It has a cultivation site in Portugal and two GMP manufacturing facilities in the UK and Spain.

The high-profile deal, which is Curaleaf’s first major international acquisition, is not just a significant milestone for the companies involved, it could also have a wider impact on the European sector at large.

“I think it’s very important for the sector, not just EMMAC,” Antonio Costanzo, CEO of EMMAC, tells Cannabis Health.

“We are the leader in the sector in Europe, so if the leader becomes the target and is acquired by the largest company in the world, it means that all of a sudden there is a lot of interest for Europe.”

The European cannabis sector is one of the fastest growing in the world. In the UK, EMMAC says it is seeing a 40 percent month on month increase in the number of patients and prescriptions since June 2020.

Meanwhile, Italy has more than doubled its importation of medical cannabis between 2019 and 2020.

“There is a clear trend. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when and how countries will open up their markets and allow people to use cannabis for medical purposes,” Costanzo adds.

Costanzo says that the acquisition has happened at the right time for both firms. Prior to the deal, EMMAC was preparing for an initial public offering (IPO), following in a similar path to Kanabo and MGC Pharmaceuticals which became the first cannabis companies to list on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) last month.

Antonio Costanzo, CEO of EMMAC. Photo: DANIEL JONES 2020

“Growth of the sector has been spectacular in the US, so Curaleaf wanted to start looking internationally. They thought Europe was the right place to go and they came to us to discuss a takeover,” Costanzo says.

“We thought that for our shareholders the best option would be the acquisition as it  would give us a certainty on the future and the development of the company.”

For EMMAC, the acquisition means additional financial, human and strategic resources, which it intends to use to accelerate its growth across the continent.

“This is very important for us because it will give us the strength, the power and the resources that we need in order to accelerate our growth, to open up new countries and to solidify the leading position that we have today in the European space,” Costanzo says.

“There is a strong feeling that Europe is deemed to be the next very high growth market and we expect to see the same type of growth in Europe that we’ve seen in North America in previous years.”

Although details remain under wraps, the company says it has identified targets for a series of mergers and acquisitions that will expand its geographical reach.

Costanzo continues: “We’re not much looking at acquiring companies that would add to our manufacturing capabilities or production capabilities, but more on the distribution side. We want to grow our manufacturing capabilities organically”

The company’s cultivation, extraction and manufacturing operations are distributed between Portugal, Spain and the UK.

“These three assets, we believe, are sufficient for the growth that we are forecasting,” he adds.

According to Costanzo, EMMAC is already expanding its extraction facilities and has plans in place to expand its cultivation site and manufacturing capabilities.

In addition to financial resources, EMMAC hopes to benefit from Curaleaf’s research and development and its experience of navigating the US cannabis market during its monumental shift towards legalisation.

EMMAC hopes that this will help the company avoid mistakes that the US and Canada made in its adoption of medicinal and recreational cannabis.

“I think there is a major difference between Europe and North America in the approach to medical cannabis because Europe is taking very much a pharmaceutical approach to medical cannabis,” Costanzo says.

“They’ve adopted EU GMP standards and put cannabis into pharmaceutical regulations.”

This was not the case in North America where completely new regulations were put in place specifically for medical cannabis.

Curaleaf’s expansion into the European market is expected to direct an increasing amount of attention to the continent, not only for its medical cannabis industry, but also its future recreational market.

The European market is following a similar trajectory to that seen in the US and Canada several years ago with the legalisation of medical cannabis followed by incremental changes to recreational cannabis legislation.

Costanzo is confident that the legalisation of recreational use in Europe will happen in the coming years, however he anticipates that it will be a “complicated” period for the sector.

“Curaleaf have gone through that transition from medical to recreational by keeping the two running together. So, I think that is going to be the key element where they can bring a lot of expertise to us in navigating that period of time.”

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New fully digital cannabis dispensary launches in UK

It aims to streamline the process through which  cannabis patients can access their medicine.

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New fully digital cannabis dispensary launches in UK

A new fully digital medical cannabis pharmacy aims to improve the dispensing experience for UK patients.

A new digital dispensing solution has launched in the UK, with the aim of streamlining the process through which cannabis patients can access their medicine.

Through the new system, patients are able to schedule delivery to their home or office, with a 120-minute delivery service in London and Birmingham and next-day delivery across the UK.

Akanda subsidiary, CanMart, has partnered with digital pharmacy infrastructure Phlo Connect and Cellen Life Sciences to bring the project to life.

The process will be increasingly seamless for patients in the near future as Phlo Connect, Cellen and CanMart build additional digital interconnections, Akanda said.

Osteoarthritis: A banner advert for the medical cannabis clinics

Tej Virk, CEO of Akanda, said: “Akanda is committed to expanding access to high-quality products for anyone in need, and that is qualified in the United Kingdom, a growing market for medical cannabis.

“Phlo Connect and Cellen are the ideal partners to make this happen, combining the UK’s first fully digital pharmacy with a digital dispensing model that is easy to use, secure, and real-time.

“In the nascent UK medical cannabis market, patients currently suffer from excess friction as the prescription process, and last-mile delivery is disjointed.

“We firmly believe that our solution is the best way to satisfy patients and get our 1P and 3P-supplied medical cannabis in their hands quickly and conveniently, which will greatly improve the patient experience.”

New fully digital cannabis dispensary launches in UK

The partnership with Phlo Connect builds on CanMart’s existing partnership with Cellen, a health tech company that provides treatment to chronic pain patients through Leva Clinic, as well as through partners including the NHS, and Boots UK.

The Leva Clinic, which is licensed and regulated by the Care Quality Commission, is one of the first fully digital pain clinics in the UK.

Cellen is also a medical cannabis supplier to Project Twenty21, the large-scale medical cannabis observational study monitored by Drug Science that aims to improve access to medical cannabis.

Adam Hunter, CCO of Phlo Connect commented: “We believe partnering with CanMart and Cellen will be a game-changer for medicinal cannabis patients here in the UK.

“By integrating with both CanMart and Cellen via our API-driven pharmacy platform, we believe that this partnership is the first truly end-to-end digital experience for medicinal cannabis patients in the UK.”

He added: “Our patients require access to new high-quality products without the friction and hassle of traditional dispensing services. This partnership is another example of our continuing efforts to build on our national, established relationships with the wider pharmaceutical community in innovative ways.

“We believe that CanMart’s access to high quality products as well as Phlo Connect’s extensive capabilities in dispensing will go a long way to helping our service to our patients.”

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CiiTECH celebrates five years with five days of CBD offers

CiiTECH’s five-year birthday is a pivotal moment, the company said.

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ciitech

Cannabis healthcare company CiiTECH celebrates its fifth birthday and reflects on a turbulent half-decade for the CBD industry.

CiiTECH’s five-year birthday is a pivotal moment, the company said. After what has been one of the most turbulent times for the industry, the firm has achieved six months of stability. With new crypto projects on the horizon and new markets on the cards, the company is gearing up for a period of growth.

CBD is a tough industry to be in right now but that has never stopped CiiTECH CEO and founder, Clifton Flack, from driving the business through regulatory issues and the challenges of an increasingly saturated market.

“When we started the business in 2017 the market was approaching the peak of interest and excitement. Since then, alongside the hundreds of brands that have been born to compete with us, we’ve also faced monumental regulatory pressures and flip-flopping,” Flack said.

“We’re still here though, independent and with a bright future ahead as the coming year ahead brings settled regulations.”

After a stormy start to the year, the FSA delivered on their promise to roll out a framework by which products can be set on a supervised pathway to novel food authorisation. The market is now more difficult than ever to penetrate for new and emerging brands, however it gives established UK CBD companies like CiiTECH an advantage over international companies attempting to penetrate the UK market.

“In parallel, the industry and our peers have had a two year pandemic, Brexit supply chain disruptions and now a cost of living crisis set to put all previous volatilities to shame,” Flack added.

“Now more than ever, cannabis healthcare companies need to take our time, avoid the panic and focus on delivering quality products behind trusted brands that are built for the long term.”

Recently, CiiTECH investigated a stock market listing on the London Stock Exchange but the IPO did not come to fruition.

“As the CEO, I had to make an impossible decision,” Flack said.

“Amongst other things, the timing was just not right. Consumer sentiment and demands are volatile and we found the essence of our company getting lost in bureaucracy at a time when it should have been front of mind.

Yesterday, CiiTECH launched five promotions over five days to celebrate the anniversary of the company.

“As a revenue-driven business, CiiTECH would not be in the position it is today without its army of loyal Provacan customers, so we’re giving back to them the best way we know-how.

“With five days’ worth of promos and freebies to mark five years of success. Our Friday promo emails have become somewhat legendary among our customers but we have never done anything like this before.”

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GPs should prescribe medical cannabis, says industry review

A new review has recommended the roll out of a national trial, permitting GPs to prescribe medical cannabis.

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GPs should prescribe medical cannabis, says industry review
Polling showed strong support for allowing all doctors to prescribe cannabis as a treatment. 

A new UK report has recommended the roll out of a national trial permitting GPs to prescribe medical cannabis.

GPs should be allowed to prescribe medical cannabis in the UK, according to a new review published on Monday 27 June.

Industry experts have recommended the roll-out of a national trial, which would see GPs permitted to prescribe cannabis-based medicinal products, alongside specialist consultants. 

The recommendation was published as part of the Hodges Review, commissioned by The Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC) and the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI).

The report, which aims to set out how the UK can be a world-leader in cannabinoid innovation, is set to be launched today (27 June) with a speech by MP George Freeman, the minister for science, research and innovation.

US research programme studies cannabinoids in ovarian cancer

GP prescribing 

In the UK, GPs may prescribe as part of a ‘Shared Care’ agreement, under the direction of a doctor on the specialist register, but they are not permitted to initiate treatment themselves.

According to polling data, collected for the review from 1,500 individuals across the UK, between the 9-13th June, 2022, there was strong support for allowing all doctors, not just specialists, to prescribe cannabis as a treatment. 

Two-thirds of respondents (65 per cent) believe GPs should be allowed to prescribe medicinal cannabis and more than a third said they would trust their GP to prescribe it to them.

Among 20 recommendations made by the report, the authors suggest an “opt-in model” which would give GPs the option to consent to prescribing cannabis-based medicines and participating in data collection to help inform future guidelines.

In more than 50 countries worldwide where medical cannabis has been made legal GPs make up the majority of prescribers. 

A survey of over 1,000 GPs, published last year by the Primary Care Cannabis Network, found that there was a willingness from UK doctors to prescribe too. 

Almost a quarter (24 percent) said they would be willing to take on the role of prescribing and overseeing medical cannabis treatments and just under three quarters (73 per cent) were open-minded about having a more active role in the field.

Read more: How GPs could open up access to medical cannabis

Quoted in the Hodges Review, Hazel Neavyn-Neita, medical information lead, Althea Life UK and Ireland said: “The cost of supplying product to the UK is roughly 3.2 times higher than supplying product to Australia.

“Allowing GPs to prescribe and widening patient access may increase sales. It would also reduce the costs of consultations for private patients since they could see a GP rather than a specialist consultant. If volumes increase, companies will be able to reduce the cost of manufacture and shipping which will reduce the cost to the patient.” 

Deepak Anand, principal of ASDA Consultancy Services, added: “By not allowing all GPs to prescribe, we’re effectively putting people into the black market, because people are going to try to access this whichever way they can… That is a serious and abject policy failure from a public health perspective by the government. Once we start to see GPs prescribing, you will see a real opening up of the industry in the UK.”

The report also highlighted the need to “take forward commitments” for coordinated data collection, suggesting that GP prescriptions could involve patient enrolment in a national registry to help gather real-world evidence.

Further recommendations include consulting with patient groups and police forces to introduce Home Office guidance for frontline officers to verify patients who have a valid prescription, and creating a single formulary of all available products in the UK to support doctors in prescribing with up-to-date information.

Attitudes towards medical cannabis 

Among those polled, there was broad support for cannabis as a medical treatment.

One in five respondents said they personally know someone whose health has benefited from medicinal cannabis and 63 per cent would be supportive if a family member was taking it to address a health condition.

Only eight per cent said they would be “somewhat” or “very” opposed to it and almost one in seven people admitted that they have used cannabis for “health reasons” themselves. 

Of those who had used cannabis for medicinal reasons (whether prescribed by a doctor or not), 90 per cent experienced positive benefits, including a fifth whose symptoms were “completely resolved”. 

There was also recognition of a need to make cannabis medicines more accessible for patients in the UK, with 59 per cent of those polled believing that the government should help lower the cost of cannabis supplied by private clinics so more people can afford it.

A large majority (64 per cent) of respondents believe the government should do more to support scientific research into cannabis in the UK.

CBD vs Medical cannabis

Although public awareness of medicinal cannabis was lower than of CBD, the report found evidence to suggest that public levels of trust are generally higher. 

When asked about CBD products, the most concerning thing for 43 per cent of respondents was if the product was synthetic and not from natural ingredients, or if the product was not tested for purity. 

Those hesitant to try CBD said they would be most likely to try a product if there was more public information about CBD and how to take it and if the government made it clear that CBD was legal.

The report also claims that where young people are more open to the use of CBD, older people are more likely to report positive views towards medicinal cannabis.

By contrast, young people were more likely to think that medicinal cannabis is “not a serious clinical treatment”.

A total of 59 per cent of respondents believe that in 10 years time the medical benefits of cannabis would be more widespread and accepted.

You can download the full report here

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