By Paul Manning, Co-Chief Executive Officer, Helius Therapeutics
New Zealanders from all walks of life are truly embracing medicinal cannabis and the prospect of products becoming more widely available from next year.
However, many Kiwis still underestimate the huge potential of this exciting new sector. If done well, it could be worth hundreds of millions in GDP and deliver significant export earnings for our country.
It is nearly 12 months since MPs from all sides of the House got behind medicinal cannabis. Legislation was passed to enable New Zealand companies to research, grow, manufacture and sell products, making medicinal cannabis more affordable for Kiwi patients, and a likely prescription-based access system from next year.
With the Ministry of Health set to soon finalise the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme, New Zealand Inc now needs to lift its sights for what is one of newest and fastest growing industries in the world. Medicinal cannabis is arguably the greatest entrepreneurial opportunity of a generation, and as a country we need to grab it and run with it.
After all, medicinal cannabis plays perfectly to our country’s strengths. Some are comparing its potential to our wine industry or more recently New Zealand’s Manuka honey success. I say it’s much bigger. Regardless, producing high quality, natural therapeutics from ostensibly the greenest place on earth sits nicely with the New Zealand story.
Given all the advancements around controlled indoor growing systems, any country can grow cannabis today. However, where New Zealand will succeed is adding value through innovation and advanced manufacturing.
Forget the image of cannabis out in the bush. Our medicinal cannabis industry will be less about growing and more about biotechnology. It needs to be about developing and building IP for the massive global medicinal cannabis industry - estimated to reach $55 billion by 2025.
We might not be the first country to embrace medicinal cannabis, but without doubt we have all the ingredients to deliver ground-breaking developments and unlock the therapeutic power of the world’s most pharmacologically active plant.
New Zealand has extraordinary capability. We have a well-respected and collegial scientific community, thriving horticultural, agritech and biotech sectors, and of course, as a country, we’re renowned for our innovation. Government offers favourable R&D incentives and clinical trials are more cost-effective here than in many parts of the world.
The good news is MBIE, NZTE and Callaghan Innovation are already working to assess the enormous potential of this new industry, with a firm eye on economic and exporting opportunities.
Let’s not also forget from an export perspective, our country already has favourable trade deals with many key markets and we’re in proximity to 60 percent of the world’s population.
The chance to create an entirely new industry, convert a black market to a legitimate economy, and make a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people doesn’t come along every day. Twenty-first century New Zealand needs to focus on creating new ‘value-add’ industries, and here’s the perfect opportunity.
Already there are opportunities for everyday Kiwis to get involved, from taking out a small-scale cultivation licence, buying shares in a company, to starting up an auxiliary business to support or supply the industry.
While our immediate priority is to serve Kiwi patients, Helius wants to play a key role in helping New Zealand reach its potential as a global centre of excellence for medicinal cannabis innovation
As a biotech company, we fully grasp that what will enable New Zealand to compete effectively and set our country apart globally, is much more than brand. It’s high-value innovation.
Within 10 years, Helius expects to have a break-through treatment for chronic pain that provides patients on every continent the opportunity to choose a natural medicine that reduces the need for opioids. We also expect to have a natural sleep product that will replace often-harsh benzodiazepines.
Worldwide, the industry is still in its relative infancy. There remain a lot of unknowns about the market potential and scientists have barely scraped the surface in understanding the plant’s therapeutic properties. However, with newness comes enormous opportunity for the companies and countries that are prepared to be bold.
To help kickstart our country embracing this new frontier, we’re backing New Zealand’s first international medical cannabis summit. Organised by BioTechNZ, Medcan 2020 will bring thought leaders from around the world to Auckland on 18 and 19 March next year.
Medicinal cannabis is set to become a major contributor to New Zealand’s knowledge economy, combining medicine, science and technology with a global marketplace. An opportunity has never been riper for our nation’s picking.