On the heels of reform in the United Kingdom, Wayland Group is teaming up with prominent medical marijuana advocate Prof. Michael Barnes to import cannabis into the UK.
Ontario-based Wayland, formerly called Maricann Group, has entered into an agreement to acquire 51 per cent of Prof. Barnes’ company Theros Pharma Ltd. for £3.8-million ($6.45-million). Wayland will pay Theros Pharma’s owners a further £24-million when the company reaches certain milestones, obtaining either a license to cultivate in the UK or a license to import cannabis into the country.
Theros Pharma is still an early stage company, consisting largely of Prof. Barnes and several associates, said Graham Farrell, Wayland’s vice president of communications. It was incorporated as Professor Mike Barnes Ltd. in 2012, and only changed its name to Theros Pharma last month.
Prof. Barnes, an honorary professor of neurological rehabilitation at the University of Newcastle, has been involved in securing cannabis access for several high-profile UK patients, including Alfie Dingley, a child who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy. He’s also associated with several other Canadian cannabis companies, as chief medical officer of Scythian Biosciences Corp., and as a research partner with Aphria Inc.
"It's Michael Barnes expertise and positioning in the UK, that's where the value comes from. Given that he's done it (helped import cannabis) and knows the regulatory pipelines, he's a good partner to have," Mr. Farrell said.
The UK rescheduled medical cannabis in early November, dramatically increasing the number of doctors able to prescribe marijuana, and simplifying the process for importing cannabis products into the country.
The system, however, remains restrictive. Only specialist physicians are allowed to prescribe cannabis, and only after other treatments have proved ineffective. Likewise, imports into the UK must be done on a patient-by-patient basis, with cannabis producers shipping products to meet patient-specific prescriptions.
Then there’s the issue of limited physician interest in prescribing cannabis. “I think we’re really just talking about a few dozen doctors, if that,” Prof. Barnes told Cannabis Professional in October, shortly after the reforms were announce.
That could change quickly, said Mr. Farrell. He pointed to Canada, where acceptance of cannabis by the medical community has grown steadily over the past few years. Wayland, he said, wants to own the infrastructure to move product into the UK as demand increases.
Wayland is one of only five Canadian LPs with EU Good Manufacturing Practices certification, a prerequisite for shipping legal medical cannabis to most European countries. It has interests in Germany and Switzerland; earlier in November it closed a joint venture deal in Italy to cultivate high-CBD, low-THC cannabis near Milan.
“We are targeting markets that are large populations with insurance-backed health coverage that will support medical cannabis. The UK falls into that bucket,” said Mr. Farrell.