Yesterday (23rd September 2019), GW Pharma, a Cambridge-based pharmaceutical manufacturer received approval from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European commission for the use of their product Epidyolex (also known as Epidiolex) for the treatment of two rare forms of childhood epilepsy. This landmark ruling means that, for the first time, a cannabis-based medicine for the treatment of Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome will likely be available throughout Europe and, hopefully, in the U.K in due course.
However, despite this promising news, Epidyolex currently remains out of favour with the NHS. In fact, it was only last month that the health watchdog NICE ruled against NHS use of Epidiolex, stating that there was not enough evidence to prove Epidiolex’s effects long term or to suggest that it would be cost-effective.
This news came as a huge blow to many patients suffering from epilepsy in the U.K who currently have to pay around £1500 a month for medical treatment that is unavailable on the NHS. This is particularly devastating considering the seemingly promising decision made back in November 2018 to reclassify cannabis based medicinal products from Schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations to Schedule 2, thereby officially highlighting the mounting evidence that proves that these products can have multiple medical benefits for some patients.
Medical experts seem to confirm this mood of continued scepticism around cannabis based medicinal products despite the mounting scientific and anecdotal evidence suggesting the efficacy of such medicines. Indeed, Ley Sander, a Professor of Neurology at University College London and a Medical Director at the Epilepsy Society stated that the new EU rulings on Epidiolex feel: ‘like a positive step. Medicinal cannabis, however, still remains a medical minefield and there are many hurdles ahead’. Sander also stresses that it remains ‘important that the pharmaceutical industry continues to work with the medical advisory body to ensure that drugs are cost effective and that [Epidiolex’s] long-term effects are clear’.
With Chris Tovey, GW Pharma’s chief operating officer, claiming that the company is in discussion with NICE over the cost effectiveness of the drug and the possibility of it being made available on the NHS, hope remains high amongst sufferers and carers for the final guidance being released by the watchdog later this year. Tovey states that GW Pharma are: ‘hoping for a relatively rapid decision from Nice and are hoping to make [Epidiolex] available for UK patients in the next couple of months’.
Further investigation and research into medicinal cannabis and alternative medical options is thoroughly encouraged by The Academy, particularly through the use of our own online courses, evidence base and whitepapers.
The rest of our resources are available on our website. We urge anyone considering use of medical cannabis products to consult with a trained medical professional prior to beginning use.