Founded in 1998, GW Pharmaceuticals is a British biopharmaceutical company, best known for being the only company with a license to cultivate cannabis in the UK. True pioneers, they are the producers of Sativex and Epiodiolex, the former being the world’s first prescription medicine derived from the cannabis plant — it has approval in multiple countries for the treatment of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis.
While people were wary of cannabis, they became very aware that it was treating patients with severe conditions, where other medicines had either failed or had introduced serious side effects and developmental issues, particularly in children.
Geoffrey Guy, founder & chairman, GW Pharma
The latter, Epidiolex is a purified form of cannabidiol that has been shown to reduce the frequency of seizures in people with two rare, severe forms of epilepsy that develop during childhood: Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. Both are known to be notoriously hard to treat.
A rather unsung additional achievement of the company is that back in 2013 the FDA granted orphan drug designation for Epidiolex in the treatment of Dravet syndrome. Then in June 2018, GW made history again when Epidiolex became the first cannabis-derived drug to be approved for sale by the FDA.
To fund the development of this breakthrough drug the company successfully listed themselves on NASDAQ on May 1, 2013, selling 3,500,000 shares at IPO and raising USD31.2M. Then in 2014 GW priced a follow-on offering of its American Depositary Shares on Nasdaq at USD36.00, raising gross proceeds of USD87.9 million.
We will probably focus on children for a long time, then we will make a leap towards much older people — cannabinoids are especially orientated towards neural development.
Always keen to distance themselves from the more controversial realm of ‘medical marijuana’, Geoffrey Guy the companies founder and Chairman has continuously branded GW as a regular pharmaceutical company which happens to use compounds from the cannabis plant. Guy feels that the UK has been more accepting of the concept than some of its peers; in a recent interview he points out that “Stigma was not a major issue in the UK. However, it is dependent on culture; there is significantly more stigma in Canada, the US and France whilst Spain is incredibly tolerant.”
Though investors were initially sceptical of the concept, Guy notes that “When we put the company on NASDAQ five years ago, there was massive enthusiasm for what GW Pharmaceuticals was doing. While people were wary of cannabis, they became very aware that it was treating patients with severe conditions, where other medicines had either failed or had introduced serious side effects and developmental issues, particularly in children.”
In terms of GW’s future areas of research and development, Guy posits that “Our cannabinoid science will lead us to some, especially interesting places. We intend to follow those signals that are indicative of cannabinoid benefit regarding homoeostasis, compensation and decompensation. We will probably focus on children for a long time, then we will make a leap towards much older people. Cannabinoids are especially orientated towards neural development. They create, guide, join and maintain neural development in the fetus. In the adult brain, they further enhance plasticity and connectivity. They repair, replace and regenerate, particularly in neural tissue but also in cardiac tissue as well.”
Read our recent interview with Geoffrey Guy, founder and chairman of GW Pharmaceuticals.