Australia’s Zelda Therapeutics (ASX:ZLD) is partnering with St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne to research the potential of cannabinoids in helping pain patients dependent on opioid based medicine.
As in the USA, opioid dependence is a growing issue in Australia, one of the many undesirable potential side effects of this class of medicine.
In 2016–17, 15.4 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed in Australia under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) to 3.1 million people. Pharmaceutical opioids are responsible for more opioid deaths and poisoning hospitalisations in Australia than heroin.
Clinical trial protocols for the Zelda/St Vincent’s study are being finalised. The double-blinded, randomised, placebo-controlled study will involve 20 patients, with the potential to expand the scale of the study pending initial outcomes. The trial is expected to commence early 2019, assuming the necessary approvals are granted in a timely fashion.
“While similar studies have been conducted in other countries with promising results, we believe that local medical community participation in these studies will accelerate acceptance of the potential of cannabinoid-based medicines,” said Managing Director of Zelda Dr Richard Hopkins.
If the study shows positive results, Zelda envisages supplying medicines, sourced from strategic partner for manufacture and supply HAPA Medical, to Australian patients via specialists registered under the country’s Authorised Prescriber Scheme.
Research out of University of Mississippi last year indicated the non-intoxicating cannabinoid cannabidiol could be useful in addressing opioid medicine abuse and addiction. There’s a growing body of other evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, suggesting cannabis can replace opioids for some patients – or help reduce use of these medications.
It’s not clear if the Zelda trial will be focusing on cannabidiol, tetrahydrocannabinol, a mix of both or perhaps also other cannabinoids.
The project marks an expansion in Zelda’s scope, which was previous confined to researching the use of cannabis in treating or managing various forms of cancer (breast, brain and pancreatic), insomnia, autism, cognitive decline and eczema. The company’s eczema program was recently de-prioritised and in late September, Zelda announced the first patient was successfully dosed in its insomnia trial.
Zelda also has a strategic focus on whole plant extracts and the “entourage effect”, which refers to the combined effect cannabinoids, terpenes and other chemical compounds can have as opposed to the sum of their parts.