"The NZ industry has a much better chance of succeeding in the long term"

“Australia is ahead when it comes to the production and uptake of medicinal cannabis, but New Zealand’s scheme gives doctors and patients one key advantage,” says Julie Curphey, Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) at Helius Therapeutics.

Ms. Curphey’s comments follow her recent attendance at the 2022 United In Compassion (UIC) Australian Medicinal Cannabis Symposium on the Sunshine Coast.

“Both countries want to achieve better access. However, New Zealand has a much better chance of succeeding in the longer term. Australian doctors face considerable paperwork for each patient. In contrast, every New Zealand GP can prescribe medicinal cannabis to any patient for any health condition without any extra regulatory compliance in place,” she says.

Australian doctors must apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration to supply medicinal cannabis to patients, for specific conditions, through the Authorised Prescriber Scheme and the Special Access Scheme. As well as meeting certain requirements and obtaining permits, doctors must also comply with relevant albeit differing state laws.

Julie Curphey

“Medicinal cannabis remains an unapproved medicine on both sides of the Tasman, yet New Zealand’s Medicinal Cannabis Scheme is specifically designed to ensure every Kiwi GP can prescribe with relative ease. Unlike Australia, New Zealand’s challenge is not around excessive red tape, but educating doctors, so they have the knowledge and confidence to prescribe it,” she says. As well as improving access, both countries, she says, remain committed to delivering greater affordability for patients.

The UIC Symposium began as a patient-led movement that saw the law change to create a new industry for the benefit of Australian patients. Its focus remains on patients and helping them with better access by providing better education of the health workforce and promoting the development of a viable, professional, and patient-focused industry.

“Being around such compassionate and dedicated people reaffirmed Helius’ founding motivation. As New Zealand’s largest licensed medicinal cannabis company, we’re all about improving patients’ quality of life and ensuring every patient who needs medicinal cannabis can get it. Access and affordability are key to living a pain-free existence,” she says.

Helius is keen to better understand Australia’s more advanced industry and prescriber behavior. “We’re closely observing how Australian clinicians are improving their own understanding about prescribing medicinal cannabis. It’s important to also comprehend how the product mix is shifting with time. More experience sees Australian clinicians more confidently differentiating between dose forms and product types depending on what condition they’re treating – skills and subtleties which are fantastic for patient outcomes,” she says.

With patients, clinicians, researchers, and the industry coming together at the UIC Symposium to examine global developments and hear from renowned experts, Ms. Curphey says it’s important for New Zealand to better understand how the global market will take shape with ongoing international regulatory changes key. 

“Hearing success stories from patients is always inspiring and helps us understand how and where we can provide better access in New Zealand. Furthermore, international researchers remind us of medicinal cannabis’ many possibilities and where we should reflect the latest developments in our own R&D programs,” she says.

With local products now available in New Zealand, Helius is set to unleash its exporting strategy this year. Recently, the East Auckland-based company was awarded the industry’s first license renewal and expansion to enable it to produce both New Zealand grown and made CBD active ingredients and full spectrum products.

“Everyone’s excited about the prospect of ‘100% Pure’ New Zealand grown and made cannabis medicines. They will be very popular for Kiwi and overseas patients alike,” says Julie Curphey.

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