GW Pharma signs Europe deal for its cannabis drug

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The Independent Online

GW Pharmaceuticals has agreed a deal for Spain's Almirall to market its cannabis-based medicine Sativex in European countries excluding the UK, sending its shares higher yesterday.

GW Pharma said it would receive a signature fee of £12m, within total potential milestone payments of £46m, and that it would maintain a significant share of long-term revenues.

Almirall is Spain's largest pharmaceutical company, with 2005 sales approaching €1bn, GW Pharma said.

Canada became the first country to approve Sativex for sale in April 2005 as a treatment for neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis patients. It was expected to be approved in Britain by the end of 2003, but has suffered delays.

German drug maker Bayer is GW Pharma's marketing partner in Canada and the UK. "This is a useful addition to the Bayer deal," Erling Refsum, an analyst for Nomura, wrote in a research note. "Almirall is a more specialised European operation [than Bayer, but the deal shows] that there is significant interest in the product."

GW said the deal covered Sativex's use as a treatment for multiple sclerosis symptoms, neuropathic pain and pain associated with cancer. GW's shares rose 6p to 123.5p on the news.

The signature fee would boost GW Pharma's net cash balance to £22m, it said in a statement.

Cannabis has a long history of medicinal use, dating back to ancient China. Queen Victoria is said to have taken cannabis tincture for her menstrual pains.

It fell out of favour because of a lack of standardised preparations and the development of synthetic painkillers.

GW Pharma says it has got round the standardisation problems with its spray-based product, which also avoids the damaging effects of smoking the drug.