Joint ventures in pharma (and nature)

Shared pursuits might lead to bigger rewards

By Karen Langhauser, Chief Content Director

Joint venturesOften, symbiotic relationships come naturally. I recently learned (via Animal Planet at 1 a.m.) that coyotes and badgers are frequently seen hunting together. This struck me as bizarre, as the two animals are generally competing for the same meal.

“Don’t be fooled,” said the narrator, “these two species are not friends.” Apparently, it’s simply a business arrangement. Coyotes have better eyesight and more speed than badgers, enabling them to spot small animals and chase them down. If the exhausted prey seeks refuge underground, the badgers tag in, using their incredible sense of smell to sniff out the rodents and powerful front claws to get to them. There are even stats: According to the National Wildlife Federation, coyotes with badger cohorts catch an estimated one-third more ground squirrels than solo coyotes.

This month’s cover story focuses on the fast-growing cannabis industry. The cannabis industry and the pharmaceutical industry are not known for having a harmonious relationship. After all, the two are seeking out the same meal-ticket: cannabis threatens a very lucrative prescription painkiller market. For years, pharma has been criticized for lobbying to block the legalization of medical marijuana as well as quietly bankrolling anti-marijuana campaigns.

The passing of the 2018 Farm Bill has led to an explosion of over-the-counter CBD supplements (CBD is one of the primary, non-psychoactive compounds found in the cannabis plant) — and a widening acceptance among the general public of cannabis as an alternative to prescription pain meds.

Last year, the FDA approved Epidiolex — the first drug approval to contain a purified drug substance derived from marijuana. And there are currently numerous clinical trials involving cannabinoids underway. While many pharma companies are waiting for an FDA roadmap for CBD before pouncing on the looming market potential, others have begun to invest in cannabinoid APIs and pharma is slowly — albeit behind closed doors— teaming up with cannabis companies.

Despite their history of opposition, both industries have much to offer the other. Cannabis brings large consumer demands, new revenue and innovation, plus the ability to provide care to patients who, for various reasons, could not find relief from prescription drugs. CBD has been shown to be non-addictive, and is even being studied as a treatment for people with opioid-addiction disorders.

Pharma can offer CBD credibility and higher, more consistent standards — potentially increasing the quality and effectiveness of cannabis-based solutions. Pharma’s well-controlled clinical studies and manufacturing procedures can ensure uniform strength and consistent delivery.

No one is going as far as to say the two industries have reconciled. But it seems that both are considering the benefits of sharing a table. As the coyotes and badgers have figured out, there is no shortage of squirrels. There are millions of patients around the world seeking relief from various ailments. A working cooperation means at the end of the day, everyone gets fed.