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Carmen Doran, Helius Therapeutics:

Growing cannabis for a rapidly growing market: “NZ is expecting patient prescriptions to double this year”

Currently, with 60,000 cannabis prescriptions dispensed in 2022, New Zealand is expecting an increase to over 120,000 in the coming year based on current growth rates. As a vertically integrated cannabis company in NZ, Helius is committed to providing a supply to this increased demand. "The four cannabis extract products that we launched in 2022 are all NZ-grown, NZ-made products, which are highly anticipated by our NZ patients as well as customers around the world," says Carmen Doran, CEO of Helius Therapeutics. At their vertically integrated facility, Helius runs their own stability and analytical programs at their GMP-certified lab. "We have a number of products in the pipeline that we'll see coming to market in the next few years, where we take more effective pharmaceutical dosage forms and combine that with medicinal cannabis as active ingredients. These are exciting developments for our patients."

Carmen Doran, CEO, brings close to 20 years of experience in global pharmaceutical operations. She has a Master's Degree in Biomedical Engineering and is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.

Access and affordability
One of the constraints for NZ patients has been the recent supply disruptions. Carmen explains that this happened and was aggravated due to Covid, affecting a number of imported products coming in from overseas. "Therefore, for our NZ patients, we are focused on access and affordability, making sure that we have a really consistent supply. This is much easier for us to do because we are in NZ and we are a vertically integrated company, so we have full control over our entire supply chain. When it comes to medicines, a consistent supply is key. Patients are relying on these medicines and need to get it consistently, with consistently high quality as well."

Extraction Manager, Matt Byerly, brings experience from the North American cannabis industry. 

Carmen explains that in New Zealand, any doctor can prescribe medicinal cannabis for any condition, and any pharmacy can dispense it. "Some doctors are very open and very knowledgeable. At the same time, there are some doctors still waiting for more scientific evidence and some that are against it. But that's not necessarily something to worry about, as the same is the case in most markets. Therefore, it is important for us to focus on education. For example, we have a program where doctors and nurses can learn more about cannabis. It's a new market, so there's still absolutely more education to be done, and that is something that we are passionate about doing." Furthermore, Helius partners with the Auckland University of Technology, where Dr. Ali Seyfoddin runs a post-graduate course on medicinal cannabis. Some NZ doctors and pharmacists went through that course, where they learned more about the plant and the use of it. "While we are a conservative nation, and our doctors are relatively conservative, we can be very quick to change. We often have new technology as a trial in NZ before its trialed in other parts of the world. There is a stigma, and there are barriers, but it's changing faster than we thought it would."

Analytical Chemist, Megan Wyllie, analyses a sample onsite at Helius laboratories 

Ramping up in 2023
According to Carmen, the company is very focused on optimization and enhancing value. "We are using all these skills to help us ramp up during 2023. Being able to grow quickly will be a challenging and exciting opportunity for us here at Helius. Negotiating regulatory pathways will also be important as we enter international markets, where we will be achieving those requirements together with our distributor partners or customers in the market. A big focus for Helius this year is about better understanding those global regulations, how they are rapidly evolving, and being able to meet the needs of those international markets and patients."

Formulation Chemist, Zak Whiting, is part of a team developing next-generation plant-based medicine. 

In NZ itself, the regulations are currently under review to improve the industry's ability to meet domestic and export requirements. "This will accelerate NZ's ability to compete on a global level. In 2023, Helius is poised for international growth and expansion. "We have great support from NZTE (New Zealand Trade & Enterprise), a part of the NZ government, for our global business development goals. I'm excited to be working with the Helius team and our customers to navigate the regulatory frameworks around the world and deliver medicines to the patients that need them."

Last week, we talked to Helius about bringing international best practices to New Zealand cannabis. Click here to read the article.

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