New Zealand’s largest licenced medicinal cannabis company, Helius Therapeutics, has signed an agreement with Auckland University of Technology (AUT). It will see Helius working with AUT academics and doctoral students, researching and developing advanced medicinal cannabis products.
The announcement follows Helius being issued with the local industry’s first GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) Licence to Manufacture Medicines by the Ministry of Health at the end of July.
“We are delighted to employ three AUT PhD students to work on the next generation of cannabis therapeutics. All three are outstanding female doctoral students. For a biotech company focused on phytocannabinoid research, development and delivery, this is a really exciting partnership,” says Carmen Doran, Chief Executive of Helius Therapeutics.
New Zealand-made products are expected to come to market towards the end of this year. Looking to the future, Helius says it will set up a R&D pipeline for advanced medicinal cannabis products based on its research collaboration with AUT.
“Our vision is to develop novel and efficacious medicines. However, to successfully compete on the world stage, we need to be a leader in the R&D space, particularly in medical innovation. Our work with AUT will lift our new industry’s R&D capability and inevitably deliver some world firsts,” says Ms Doran.
Leading an internationally experienced team at Helius, Ms Doran is no stranger to science herself. She worked globally with Novartis Pharmaceuticals for 10 years before consulting for five years with a focus on pharmaceutical start-ups and new technology. She holds a Master’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering.
Having raised $48m in capital since 2018, Helius has invested significantly in its 8,800sqm indoor cannabis cultivation and manufacturing complex in East Auckland. New Zealand’s largest purpose-built facilities are designed to achieve precision-controlled cannabis cultivation, extraction, purification, product manufacturing and analytical testing.
AUT’s medicinal cannabis expert, Associate Professor Ali Seyfoddin says, AUT’s collaboration with Helius includes developing new extraction techniques for cannabinoids and terpenes, formulating dosage forms which doctors and patients are more familiar with than the currently available edibles and sprays, and improving absorption and efficacy of cannabis medicines while reducing side effects.
“Some of the research will focus on terpenes, a separate compound found in the cannabis plant which has been found to have additional therapeutical effects and which when combined with cannabinoids could have an enhanced pharmacological effect, known as the ‘entourage effect,” he says.
He says these new compounds will be able to provide patients with better targeted medicines that more effectively treat patient conditions such as chronic pain, nausea, and epilepsy.
“It’s exciting and encouraging for AUT students to work with Helius on projects that add to New Zealand’s development of intellectual property,” he says.
Dr Seyfoddin teaches AUT’s standalone and New Zealand’s only postgraduate course on medicinal cannabis, Introduction to Medicinal Cannabis. He also leads a wide array of research on cultivation, processing, extraction and formulation of medicinal cannabis products.
Helius obtained Callaghan Student Fellowship Scholarships for two of the PhDs, and the third is funded by an AUT Vice Chancellor’s Doctoral Scholarship with the support of Helius.
Collaboration is a key component to Helius being a market leader. Recently it announced an exclusive partnership with DATAPHARM focused on delivering leading prescriber education programmes and resources. As education sponsor, it has ensured the launch of the country’s leading medicinal cannabinoid information service www.mcinfo.com
Last year Helius announced another exclusive partnership with BioLumic. The Palmerston North-based company leads the world with its unique ultraviolet technology to stimulate the growth of medicinal cannabis and significantly increase yields.
“Helius is steadfastly committed to education and innovation. We’re thrilled to once again be collaborating with the best in the business. With AUT we will build considerable scientific knowledge and capability, helping New Zealand to become a medicinal cannabis research centre of excellence,” says Carmen Doran.