25 October 2016
The report goes on to say…
The marijuana plants, which are of a non-psychoactive variety, will be grown in British Sugar’s 18-hectare glasshouse in Wissington, Norfolk, where the company, a subsidiary of Associated British Foods, is currently cultivating tomatoes. The space is the equivalent of 23 football pitches.
“Every year we try to work out the best commercial assets for the glasshouse,” said Paul Kenward, managing director of British Sugar.
“We had always been interested in looking at pharmaceutical crops but never quite found the right partner. We recently did in GW.
“Our glasshouse is very well suited for growing that particular variety of the cannabis plant family and it’s fair to say that the return will be better than on tomatoes. We’re confident of decent yields.”
GW Pharmaceuticals, a UK biotech, has developed an experimental treatment called Epidiolex for severe forms of childhood epilepsy. It is derived from compounds in the cannabis plant and has achieved stellar results in final-stage trials.
The glasshouse will provide enough raw crop a year to treat 40,000 children globally, making British Sugar a major supplier to GW.
“GW wanted a very professional grower and we have that expertise. This is a crop that goes into medicines and needs to be grown consistently and reliably,” said Mr Kenward.
“By growing this crop we are indirectly helping sick children and doing something socially worthwhile.”
The first seedlings will be planted in January and there are three crops a year, with the first harvest in April. The plants will be picked and packaged on site and transported in bales to GW.
Cannabis plants need a lot of light and heat and British Sugar generates this in an environmentally friendly way: electricity, heat, steam and fertiliser are bi-products of the sugar-making process at its nearby factory.
“We have invested a lot in lights and blinds to manage light exposure,” said Mr Kenward.
“Carbon dioxide helps all plants grow and we have that available from our sugar factory.
“Sugar is our key input but we turn it into a range of different things. This is just the latest step in our innovation journey.”
British Sugar’s annual sales fluctuate with the sugar price, so when wholesale prices of the sweet stuff are low, the company’s peripheral businesses, such as power generation and horticulture, become quite significant.
“We are growing the non-psychoactive plant in the cannabis family, so it has no value to anybody other than GW as a pharmaceutical ingredient,” Mr Kenward added.
A spokesman for GW Pharmaceuticals said the decision to partner with British Sugar was a consequence of its expertise in growing.
Epidiolex has the potential to be a breakthrough medication for children with rare forms of epilepsy, for whom there are no effective treatments.
GW plans to file the drug with US regulators in the first half of 2017 and chief executive Justin Gover hopes that the treatment could be on the US market by the end of next year, with a European launch following shortly thereafter.
Accordingly, the company has been ramping up production and manufacturing and expanding its commercial sales force.