How a cancer diagnosis inspired one of the fastest-emerging medical cannabis companies in the world

BBS Pharmaceuticals was born one night as two friends, Samuel Butler and Stuart Bais were driving back late from work.

“We started talking about a bunch of things and one of the things that kept coming back was medicinal cannabis, and particularly how we were surprised on how slow things were moving in Australia,” recalls one of BBS Pharmaceutical’s Directors, Butler, whose mother had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Watching my mother suffer, without being able to help her, was just heartbreaking. Seeing the effects of chemotherapy and what that did to her and how it affected her physically and emotionally made me want to do something about it and that’s how BBS Pharmaceuticals was born,” he continued.

Turning Dreams into Reality

Founded in 2017, BBS Pharmaceuticals is an Australian company licensed to cultivate, produce and manufacture medicinal cannabis products for the Australian and global markets.

Over the last year, the company has developed a sound business growth strategy under an operational framework that suits the growing market setting up operations in South Australia and collaborations with international partners.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” says Chairman George Vanco who together with CEO John Dagas are leading BBS Pharmaceuticals.

People first

“Here at BBS Pharmaceuticals we believe that people with passion, determination, commitment and bravery can change the world for the better. Our aim is to innovate the Medicinal Cannabis landscape in Australia and worldwide by producing and delivering the highest-quality, cannabis-based product that will improve the quality of human life.

“In order to achieve that and improve the quality of human life, excellence is expected in every step of the way,” says Dagas.

According to the three company directors, the company’s goal is to be the leading medicinal cannabis cultivator and manufacturer in Australia, with strong market connections at an international scale, and influence the Australian and South East Asian market as a leader in this industry.

Brave enough to care, bold enough to influence, strong enough to lead

Setting the record straight: is Australia on its way of becoming the largest exporter of medicinal cannabis in the world?

Australia is a signatory to the international treaty known as the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol (Single Convention) which was adopted in March 1961. The ND Act implements the Single Convention and establishes the regulatory framework to prevent the abuse and diversion of controlled narcotics and to ensure that controlled narcotics are available for medicinal and research purposes within Australia.

Prior to 2016, cannabis was generally treated as an illegal narcotic in Commonwealth, State and Territory laws. The ND Act was amended in February 2016 by the Narcotic Drugs Amendment Act 2016 (Cth) (Amendment Act), establishing a national regime for cultivation and production of cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes, and to facilitate scientific research. Importantly, the Amendment Act established a licensing and permit scheme to permit cannabis supply for therapeutic purposes.

Currently, the growth of this industry domestically is inhibited by the existing regulatory framework that limits patient access to medicinal cannabis and the high cost for treatment due to medicinal cannabis products not being subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. This has resulted in investment into the Australian industry being stunted compared to other more mature markets such as Canada, where medicinal cannabis has been legal since July 2001.

To fuel the industry, Greg Hunt, the Australian Minister for Health announced on 4 January 2018 that the Federal Government wanted Australia to become the largest exporter of medicinal cannabis in the world. This led to the Federal Government releasing the Narcotic Drugs Amendment (Cannabis) Regulations 2018 (Cth) which permitted the export of medicinal cannabis products by amending the Narcotic Drugs Regulations 2016 (Cth).

This change focused both international and domestic interest in Australia as a potential global player in the medicinal cannabis market. In Australia, provided domestic supply of medicinal cannabis is not affected, the following products are eligible for export if granted a licence and permit to export:

  • Medicinal cannabis products manufactured in Australia under a GMP licence;
  • Medicinal cannabis products listed as export-only, or registered, on the Australian    Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG); and
  • Extracts of cannabis (or extracts of cannabis resin) manufactured under a Narcotic Drugs Act 1967 licence and permit that are not in the final dosage form.

Time for change

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything,” says Director Brandon Smith.

According to the latest industry data, the legalisation of cannabis may prove to be one of the most consequential social changes of our time, and governments, investors, and business owners across the world are making enormously consequential decisions that will form the foundation of a global, regulated cannabis industry.

As legal markets emerge across the globe, data collection and data harmonisation across markets (by both industry and government) will be critical to refining our collective understanding of the size, growth, and evolution of the cannabis industry.

BBS Pharmaceuticals: the future

BBS Pharmaceuticals Primary growth strategy is to connect with the export markets and set up long term offtake agreements with collaborating partners.

As an emerging leader in the Australian market of medicinal cannabis, BBS Pharmacheuticals is focusing on establishing regional headquarters in Europe and Asia for the European Asia Pacific/Middle Eastern markets respectively and has already initiated collaborations between universities in Greece, Italy, Malaysia and Australia focusing on pre-clinical trials.

Pre-clinical trials will be undertaken in the application of medicinal oil for the treatment of various ailments whilst the collaborating partners will also commence research in the infusion of medicinal oil into various products, extraction of CBD & THC, preclinical animal studies by using vaping machines, R&D for infusion of CBD in food, makeup and drinks and cell studies for wound healing, oxidative stress.

“Our collaborating partners will share knowledge, equipment and researchers to ensure that the knowledge transfer is bipartisan and of benefit to all involved. In particular, our Malaysian University partner is keen to work with the University of Patras and BBS Pharmaceuticals in research and preclinical trials on CBD and various education programs.

“We are very excited to be able to connect with global markets keeping in mind that leadership is about vision and responsibility,” stated Dagas who attended the discussions together with BBS Pharmaceutical’s Project Director, Dennis Chung.

“It has taken us a lot of research, investigation and collaboration to find out the best design we can implement for our project,” said Chung, who is also Company Ambassador of BBS Pharmaceuticals.

Chung also stated that the signing of the MOUs between the universities, MGB and BBS is another exciting strategic action being implemented that is aligned with BBS’s global network and business growth plans.

BBS has also signed an offtake agreement with a global manufacturer of medical cannabis products from Canada with manufacturing facilities in Australia.

Environment, sustainability, world class produce

South Australia is renowned for its clean and green approach to agriculture, horticulture, viticulture and aquaculture and has a reputation for a world class produce.

The state’s dry climate is ideal for reducing the potential of incidence of rot in growing environments as higher humidity levels, together with seasonal crops due to extreme climatic conditions such as extremely low temperatures or extreme heat that can – and do – reduce the output for the industry worldwide.
Furthermore, the South Australian dry climatic conditions induce wax production on the leaves and stems for water retention and these waxes contain cannabinoids of which have the potential to increase resin yields.

“With the company based in South Australia we have well balanced climatic conditions to best grow and manufacture our products,” says Vanco.


The BBS facility and site are strategically located to ensure maximum security requirements are achieved and exceeded. The land acquired caters for aggressive expansion plans to ensure that the company is able to meet the demands of the ever expanding global market.


At the same time, BBS Pharmceuticals has the highest standards through the use of state of the art technology and robust procedures to ensure they are the prime exemplars of security in this emerging industry.

To achieve this, the company has incorporated world leading technology in CCTV, alarm, access controls and physical deterrents which ensure that the site and operational environment is industry leading in not only security but staff safety. The company’s cultivation facility has the potential for expansion as the acquired land is over 400 acres.
Due to the size of the land and the accessibility to services, the potential of growth is significantly larger than the current cultivation plan.

“At a manufacturing level, we are working closely with an Australian innovation company to further develop their state-of-the-art manufacturing capability, hence enhance the quality and output of the manufacturing process. Given the complexity of the product and the market we have tapped into, transparency is essential therefore we have employed an experienced security specialist and facility managers to work with our team and guide us through the more complex issues of the medicinal cannabis industry, keeping our momentum alive as we are moving forward,” says BBS’s Managing Director Bais.

BBS Pharmaceuticals: leading by example

For a South Australian business, the opportunity to tap into a network of international like-minded brands is invaluable in terms of shared learnings, experiences and making a difference to the world.

“From the conception of our brand ‘doing the right thing’ has been important to our team, our customers and shareholders. We believe it is the responsibility of every individual to be a good citizen, and we feel that as our business grows and we are becoming a big player in a global market, our impact in the world and on human rights can be just as significant as even larger operations.

“We are seeing the same trend in our industry and that’s the thirst for responsibility, accountability, and leadership. While we’re proud of our business growth in 2019, we also realise that companies like ours have a responsibility as leaders in the market to take small steps to protect our investors, collaborating partners, and market partners while leading the way in our emerging industry,” concludes Dagas.

John Dagas
BBS Pharmaceuticals Pty Ltd
+61 (08) 7129 8043
Tweet @BBSpharma

This article appeared in the first issue of Medical Cannabis Network which was out in January. Click here to subscribe.

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