Education, development, and campaigning for patient access to medical cannabis

Education, development, and campaigning for patient access to medical cannabis
© Konstantin Yuganov

Althea’s mission is to alleviate the suffering of patients with debilitating conditions through education, development, and campaigning for patient access to medical cannabis.

The primary mission of Australian medical cannabis provider Althea is to alleviate the suffering of eligible patients with debilitating conditions, and campaigns for better patient access to medical cannabis. Althea works tirelessly to implement its patient-focused ethos by ensuring medical cannabis products are made available to UK patients, prescribed by specialist clinicians on the General Medical Council’s (GMC) specialist register. As one of Australia’s leading licensed suppliers and exporters of pharmaceutical grade, full spectrum medical cannabis products, Althea’s vision is to broaden its reach to become accessible to as many patients as possible. The company operates within highly regulated markets including Australia, the UK and Germany, with plans to expand further into emerging markets across Europe and Asia.

Everyday doctors for everyday patients

Medical education is at the heart of Althea’s development strategy, which prioritises the provision of continuing professional development resources and electronic learning software in order to help healthcare professionals (HCPs) guide their patients through medical cannabis treatment pathways. Althea aims to extend and strengthen the base of clinical evidence which is available to potential prescribers, through the implementation of tools such as the free online Medical Education in Cannabinoids (MEDIC) portal, which offers evidence-based education and resources on medical cannabis for HCPs. MEDIC’s educational modules focus on the endocannabinoid system and the appropriate use of medical cannabis in patients with symptoms related to chronic non-cancer pain, anxiety and sleep disorders, and chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting (CINV). Althea is in the process of rolling out further accredited educational modules.

In order to achieve its vision of everyday doctors treating everyday patients with medical cannabis, Althea employs technology to connect with as many potential prescribers and patients as possible. Althea Concierge™ is a registered medical platform which provides resources and prescribing tools for doctors wishing to prescribe medical cannabis. Althea Concierge is free to download as a smartphone app; and can also be accessed online at

In 2019, Althea established MMJ Clinic Group Limited trading as MyAccess Clinics, a network of private medical clinics in the UK and only the second medical clinic to receive a licence from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), providing its specialists with a regulated environment in which to prescribe medical cannabis. MyAccess Clinics operate in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and Bristol. Patient numbers are rising substantially every month, with new patient enquiries increasing throughout the pandemic. The CQC licence makes provision for telemedicine and domiciliary care, meaning MyAccess Clinics prescribers are available for video consultations and can provide home care services.

Achievements and successes

The March 2020 quarter saw Althea’s sales rise 39% higher than the December 2019 quarter. The company reported more than 6,000 patients had been prescribed Althea medical cannabis between Australia and the UK, as of May 2020, with over 500 doctors prescribing Althea products. The company estimates that approximately 20% of all privately treated medical cannabis patients in England, received Althea product prescriptions.

Althea’s UK team recently liaised closely with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock MP, to provide the chosen policy solution concerning easing import restrictions for cannabis-based medicinal products (CBPMs), bringing their importation closer to that of other unlicensed medicines. Althea successfully lobbied the UK government to change the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s (MHRA) import guidance from a system where licensed wholesalers could only apply to import the quantity specified on a prescription to the current system, which allows the import of medical cannabis products in anticipation of prescriptions and for licensed wholesalers to hold supplies of products. These can be drawn on when in receipt of a prescription from a specialist doctor on the GMC’s specialist register. The benefit to patients should be that delays are drastically shortened and a near normal level of provision is possible.

Partially in light of Althea’s campaigning endeavours, the MHRA revised its guidance – titled ‘The supply, manufacture, importation and distribution of unlicensed cannabis-based products for medicinal use in humans “specials” ’ – to allow notification of import of 25 individual doses or a quantity that must not exceed that required for 25 courses of treatment over no more than three months. Multiple notifications can be made based on specialised doctor declarations. This is now in line with the import of all other unlicensed medicinal products (‘specials’).

Distribution and expansion

Althea recently signed a supply agreement with pharmaceutical wholesaler and distribution partner Grow Pharma, in order to extend the reach and distribution of Althea’s products in the UK beyond its own supply chain. The company is deeply committed to ensuring eligible patients have immediate access to medical cannabis on prescription; and having a wide distribution network with preferred partners is critical to meeting this objective.

Althea recently signed an official distribution agreement with Nimbus health GmbH for the sale and distribution of its medical cannabis products in Germany. Nimbus is a leading wholesale pharmaceutical licence holder based in Frankfurt, with an extensive pharmacy network across the country. As part of its German market entry, Althea plans to launch a localised version of Althea Concierge and MEDIC for German doctors and patients. The German medical cannabis industry holds great economic and industrial potential: a reported 60,000 patients in Germany were treated with medical cannabis last year and this number is expected to rise to one million by 2024.

Althea Concierge in focus

Althea Concierge is a free online platform for patients, doctors and pharmacists to manage their medical cannabis needs. A registered medical platform with Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), Althea Concierge was launched in September 2018 in Australia and May 2019 in the UK, with expansion of the platform planned for other markets.

Althea Concierge has represented a turning point, both for effectively connecting patients with healthcare professionals, and proactively engaging key stakeholders with Althea. The platform has also facilitated real world data collection with the goal of developing a wider global evidence base. Althea Concierge enables patients to find appropriate healthcare professionals and bespoke information on access pathways, while clinicians can use the platform to access support with patient evaluations and developing virtual treatment plans, allowing them to observe and evaluate patient treatment outcomes. Pharmacists can also benefit from Althea Concierge, which offers product information and dispensing guidance for Althea’s medical cannabis products. Althea Concierge is newly available as an app for smartphones and tablets, featuring interactive patient treatment plans and a Real World Data (RWD) registry capable of producing reports on efficacy, quality of life and patient reported outcomes.

Unexpected challenges

Althea views the medical cannabis market as one filled with enormous potential: research by Prohibition Partners1 indicates that there are 2.9 million potential medical cannabis patients in the UK alone. The company strives to help as many patients as possible, particularly those with debilitating conditions, by widening the availability of cannabis-based medicinal products for those patients who are eligible for CBPMs after an assessment.

Despite the unexpected challenges posed by Covid-19, devastating fires throughout New South Wales and Victoria, and seasonality associated with the Christmas holidays, Althea recently posted its best quarter on record. The company is determined to remain agile and able to react quickly to best service the needs of its patients: while the lockdown has been in place, Althea’s infield sales teams in Australia and the medical science liaison team in the UK have pivoted to support healthcare providers virtually in many of their interactions through remote and streaming technologies. Althea Concierge has proved particularly helpful in supporting remote communication and telehealth services, and Althea’s clinicians are able to continue offering patient consultations through video streaming platforms.

Althea’s infield team continue working hard to overcome obstacles prevalent in the medical cannabis environment. This includes the conflation of medical grade cannabis with recreational cannabis, and the need to help healthcare professionals tackle the complex prescribing process and supply chain for patients to obtain their medication.

Meanwhile, since medical cannabis and its derivatives are not featured in the British National Formulary (BNF), the UK’s pharmaceutical reference text and a usual point of reference for doctors, clinicians lack guidance on the initiation and titration of the products. This is further compounded by the overall lack of professional body guidance and support made available to physicians in the UK who are considering prescribing medical cannabis. Together with doctors’ and NHS managers’ concerns over and lack of training in prescribing medical cannabis products, these are proving to be significant barriers towards widening patient access to cannabis.

Althea has worked relentlessly to destigmatise the role of cannabis-based treatment within medicine. The company provides educational events and collaborations with experienced practitioners already prescribing medical cannabis. Attendees benefit from peer to peer engagement with prescribers from the UK and Canada, as well as drawing on existing experience from Australia, Canada and the USA.

Looking forward

Althea is delighted that in the short time since its inception in 2017, more than 500 healthcare professionals have prescribed Althea medicinal cannabis products for over 6,000 patients in Australia and the UK. The company is excited by the prospect of reaching even more healthcare professionals and patients in Australia – where the estimated addressable market is approximately 500,000 patients. Since moving into the UK in February 2019, Althea has secured an approximate market share of 20%, and is looking forward to working closely with specialist prescribers and patient organisations to help reach the estimated 2.9 million potential medical cannabis patients in the UK. Following its Australian and UK successes, Althea is working towards becoming the market leader in Germany, with a core focus on cannabis extract products and clinical education, thereby filling existing gaps in supply and knowledge.

MyAccess Clinics will develop and expand further, with the network of private clinics expected to grow throughout the course of 2020. On a clinical level, Althea is working with medical bodies to ensure medical cannabis establishes a recognised position in pharmacopeia, and plans to continue growing the real world evidence base for medical cannabis through ongoing research and data gathering. Alongside this, Althea will continue to work closely with its government partners to drive policy reform, to ensure the legislation governing access to medical cannabis is aligned in the best interests of patients.

This content is authored and sponsored by Althea MMJ UK Ltd.
Althea UK

This article is for issue 3 of Medical Cannabis Network. Click here to get your free subscription today.

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