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Wednesday, 24 October, 2001, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
Cannabis free-up boosts drug firm
Graph showing share price of GW Pharmaceuticals
The only UK firm licensed to produce remedies from cannabis has seen its shares soar after the government announced plans to legalise the drug for medical use.

GW Pharmaceuticals boss Dr Geoffrey Guy said he was "delighted" with an announcement by Home Secretary David Blunkett of proposals to allow the use of cannabis-based medicines on prescription.

The price of shares in GW Pharmaceuticals, which was floated in June, surged almost 17% in early trade on Wednesday over hopes of the firm's improved profitability.

"These medicines have been in development since early 1998," GW chief executive Justin Gover told the BBC's World Business Report. "We are now in what is called Phase 3 trials... we expect them to conclude in 2003."

Gary Waanders, of Peel Hunt & Co, said Mr Blunkett's proposals would provide a "significant upside" to the shares.

"GW is in a very attractive position," he said.

"No one else [in the sector] is involved in a similar venture. There's a clear clinical need for cannabis-based drugs for cancer and multiple sclerosis."

Longstanding campaign

Mr Blunkett's announcement followed long-standing pressure for patients to be allowed to benefit from the ability of cannabis to dull pain without, it is thought, significant side effects.

The home secretary warned that the legalisation move was dependent on a "satisfactory outcome" to trials of GW treatments.

The British Medical Associated sketched out a role for the drug in the 1997 report "Therapeutic Uses of Cannabis".

And Dr Guy was in 1998 awarded a licence to develop cannabis-based medicines, leading to initial clinical trials a year later.

The Wiltshire-based firm in September reported "very positive outcomes" from further trials, involving mainly patients with spinal cord injury or multiple sclerosis.

"In some cases the improvements have been sufficient to transform lives," the firm said, noting improvements in pain relief and sleep duration, and a reduction in symptoms.

Dosage concerns

While some anti-drug protesters have warned over making cannabis legally available, if only on prescription, GW said patients were able to administer doses capable of symptom relief rather than intoxication.

The company has also joined the lobby of medical experts opposed to the smoking of cannabis.

Many organisations have warned that "smoked cannabis does not offer physicians and patients a solution which fits the norms of medical practice", GW said in August.

Dr Guy said on Wednesday: "GW's programme is dedicated to providing patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, cancer, arthritis and other serious medical conditions with prescription medicines which harness the medical effects of cannabis without the harmful effects of smoking."

GW treatments under trial are typically applied through a spray aimed under the tongue.

Business award

Dr Guy, who studied medicine at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, is a co-founder, and former chairman, of plant medicines firm Phytopharm, which is also listed on the London Stock Exchange.

He has won an award from venture capital firm 3i for his entrepreneurship in the science and technology sector.

Shares in GW, which hit a high of 111p in morning trade, stood 12.5p higher at 107.5p in lunchtime dealing in London on Wednesday.

Justin Gover, GW chief executive
"These medicines have been in development now since early 1998"
See also:

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