British campaigners are celebrating an important milestone after the NHS approved its first two medical cannabis products.
New guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has recommended Epidyolex for the treatment of two forms of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut and Dravet syndromes. It follows the EU’s decision to approve Epidyolex, an oral CBD solution produced by British company GW Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: GWPH).
The product is also legal in the U.S., where it is registered as Epidiolex, after gaining FDA approval.
Nice also gave the green light for British doctors to prescribe Sativex, a spray containing CBD and THC, to multiple sclerosis patients. Sativex is also produced by GW Pharma.
Genevieve Edwards, director of external affairs at the Multiple Sclerosis Society UK, hailed the move as an important first step. Her organization has been campaigning for access to Sativex for years.
“These guidelines are an important first step, but don’t go far enough,” said Edwards in a news release. “No cannabis-based treatments have been recommended to treat pain, a common symptom of MS.”
She added that the local NHS bodies might not have enough money in their budgets to cover the costs for patients, meaning more people could miss out.
GW Pharma said it is a “momentous occasion for UK patients”. Chief operating officer Chris Tovey, added that the products had gone through a rigorous testing process before gaining Nice approval.
Dr. Rhys Thomas, consultant neurologist at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Newcastle, said epilepsy sufferers and doctors were excited and enthusiastic about the announcement.
The UK legalized medical cannabis in October 2018, but only a handful of patients have gained access to it due to NHS guidelines that essentially prevented doctors from prescribing it. Now they will be emboldened to offer Epidyolex and Sativex to epilepsy and MS sufferers, and the UK medical cannabis sector should expand significantly in the months ahead as a result.
The decision reverses previous guidance that Nice made earlier this year. The new guidelines recommends that, providing the local NHS health authority is willing to pay for continued treatment, a 4-week trial of Sativex can be offered to people with moderate to severe MS-related spasticity which has not been improved by other treatments.
At the end of the trial, if their spasticity-related symptoms have improved by at least 20%, they can continue taking Sativex. MS Trust said it was extremely pleased.