La Trobe University, Melbourne, announces new cannabis hub

As concern about the misuse of opioid pharmaceuticals increases and interest in the medicinal use of cannabis continues to grow, a new medicinal agriculture research hub planned for La Trobe University’s campus in Melbourne will help provide some answers.


To follow is an excerpt from an article that appeared in The Australian.

You can read the original here.


The $27 million initiative will be led by Tony Bacic, a plant biochemist who has worked extensively with industry, who says the research and industry collabor­ation has the potential to develop solutions to help thousands of people living with chronic medical conditions.


The ARC Research Hub for Medicinal Agriculture would be a “centre of excellence that can provide the research and the training that underpins this industry”, Professor Bacic said.


Funded by the federal government, La Trobe University and other industry and education partners, the hub would be a collective effort.


While medicinal cannabis is a growth industry in Australia, with clinical trials under way and lic­ences issued for cultivation, the opiate industry has been established for many years and Tasmanian poppy farmers grow almost half the world’s supply of the raw ingredient in opiate painkillers.


Cannabis growing at a facility in Victoria that will supply La Trobe University’s new medicinal agriculture research hub

But with profits threatened by increasing regulation leading to a decline in opioid use, poppy growers also have had to deal with biological problems, such as an outbreak of downy mildew.


Professor Bacic said research was needed to build the poppy’s disease resistance, resistance that could benefit from a poppy breeding program.


Meanwhile, building from a slow start, the medicinal cannabis industry has started to find traction in Australia. Yet trial results had been mixed and doctors remained reluctant to prescribe medical cannabis, he said, because there was no real way of guaranteeing the quality of the product.


“The whole basis for establishing this centre is that we will actually be producing material with a defined composition, and then tests can be done on model systems to ensure that it does actually have the effect that it’s claimed to have.”


“What we want to do is grow the cannabis under controlled conditions, produce a purified compound of known composition, and put that into test systems to test it in terms of its efficacy, in terms of pain relief and in terms of being able to address a disease model.”

As well as concentrating on research, he said, the hub would have a substantial training element. “If the industry is to expand it needs a skilled workforce,” he said, listing plant scientists, agronomists, molecular and cell biologists, extraction chemists as some of the specialists who could benefit from the training. The hub is expected to begin operations early next year, then scale up during the ensuing 12 to 18 months.


Federal Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham said the hub would be a step forward for the nation’s developing medicinal agriculture industry.


“This is about injecting knowledge at all parts of the supply chain, from producers to manufacturers and exporters, to ensure they have the tools to develop and expand their enterprises,” Senator Birmingham said.

La Trobe University vice-chancellor John Dewar said the hub would position Australia as a world leader in the field.


“The new ARC Research Hub for Medicinal Agriculture will combine La Trobe’s exceptional research capabilities in the fields of agricultural and biomedical sciences with the capabilities of our research and industry partners to provide a much-needed evidence base around the growth and use of medicinal plants such as cannabis,” Professor Dewar said.

© Helius Therapeutics 2018