Big Pharma Now Holds Patent for CBD/THC Cancer Treatment

Jessica McKeil October 18, 2018 19 comments

GW Pharmaceuticals owns Sativex – a spray containing CBD and THC extracted from hemp, with more cannabis-based drugs in the works.

After decades of advocacy work, cannabis is finally breaking into the modern medical vernacular. Legal in a majority of states, recreational in Canada, and updated policies creeping slowly around the world, cannabis as medicine is no longer as controversial as it once was. But it’s not all passionate cannabis consumers bringing cannabis into the light. As the Sativex patent confirms, big pharma has had a hand to play as well.

What does it look like for Big Pharma to work in cannabis-based medicine? As a primary example, the British company, GW Pharmaceuticals, has been a big name in cannabis pharmaceuticals since 1998. It’s broken through the iron gates surrounding cannabinoid medicine in many countries around the world. From having Sativex approvals in Europe to the CBD-derived Epidiolex in the US, its done big things for cannabis pharmaceuticals.

Undeniably, GW’s work has aided the evolution of cannabis in modern medicine. Over the years, the organizations’ research and investments have developed cannabis into drugs for multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, and now even cancer. That’s right. Big Pharma currently holds the patent for a cancer treatment made from cannabis.

A Sativex Patent for the Treatment of Cancer?

Among the dozens of patents held, GW Pharmaceuticals’ patent for the therapeutic use of cannabis on cancer has existed since 2013. According to their announcement, “The subject patent specifically covers a method for treating glioma in a human using a combination of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) wherein the cannabinoids are in a ratio of from 1:1 to 1:20 (THC:CBD) with the intent to reduce cell viability, inhibit cell growth or reduce tumor volume.”

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At the time of this filing, in 2013, the company had already pursued preclinical work to test the viability of this application. This initial trial, published in Molecular Cancer Therapy, delivered interesting results for the combination of THC:CBD with a chemotherapy called temozolomide for the treatment of Glioblastoma multiforme. In the trials, researchers found that a combination of both delivered much better anti tumor activity even among drug-resistant tumors. [1]Torres, S., Lorente, M., Rodriguez-Fornes, F., Hernandez-Tiedra, S., Salazar, M., Garcia-Taboada, E., … Velasco, G. (2011). A Combined Preclinical Therapy of Cannabinoids and Temozolomide against … Continue reading.

Preclinical Trial On Cannabinoids And Cancer

The Sativex patent and the results of this preliminary work eventually led to a subsequent preclinical trial in 2018. In this study, researchers further refined the hypothesis. As the authors explained, “in this work we explored the anticancer efficacy of the systemic administration of cannabinoids in combination with [temozolomide] in preclinical models of glioma,” all in preparation for a future clinical trial. [2]López-Valero, I., Torres, S., Salazar-Roa, M., García-Taboada, E., Hernández-Tiedra, S., Guzmán, M., … Lorente, M. (2018). Optimization of a preclinical therapy of cannabinoids in combination … Continue reading

GW Pharmaceuticals has had the expertise, the financial backing, and the regulatory know-how, to push cannabis for cancer into real-world clinical trials. The Sativex patent and the preliminary clinical work is all leading to one point: pharmaceutical preparations of cannabis for cancer.

sativex patent represented by young researcher in greenhouse of cannabis

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Cannabinoids for Cancer is not a New Concept

It is interesting to note that GW’s treatment, Sativex, grew out of a long history of pre-clinical trials and anecdotal evidence supporting the use of cannabis, and cannabis-based products, for tumor reduction.

Once you start digging, you’ll quickly find dozens (maybe hundreds) of patient stories. In them, people go on at length about their lived experience consuming medical cannabis following a cancer diagnosis. Not only do they report cannabis alleviating the many side effects of radiation and chemotherapy, but in some cases patients report it cured their cancer. These cases not proven, but nevertheless compelling.

On the peer-reviewed end of the spectrum, there is also a growing body of preliminary research exploring cannabinoids’ antitumor properties.

For example, the National Institutes of Health investigated CBD for breast cancer cells, and found this compound slows down cancer growth. Cannabinoids, like CBD, have also been found to target a specific pediatric cancer, neuroblastoma, both in vitro (laboratory) and in-vivo (animal-based) studies. For both kidney cancer and breast cancer, researchers are also getting positive results from early trials.

Although GW Pharmaceuticals’ Sativex patent isn’t a novel concept, it is in relatively advanced stages of research. That is, at least compared to many of the other areas of cannabis and cancer.

Despite the Sativex Patent, It has not Created Any New Medical Applications

Fast forward to 2020, and where has the Sativex patent led in terms of real-world medicines? There have been many proof of concept trials, and as highlighted above, a few preclinical trials, but nothing further.

Initially, when GW Pharmaceuticals received the patent in 2013, it did so in a partnership with another company called Otsuka Pharmaceutical. Together these two companies worked for nearly a decade to get Sativex approved in the US. Otsuka contributed a substantial investment over the years, including clinical trials, drug development, and one can assume lobbying work. In 2017, after the completion of the Phase 2 proof of concept trial on Sativex for Glioblastoma multiforme, these two international pharmaceutical companies parted ways.

It’s not clear what this separation means for the future of this Sativex patent in America. Otsuka was entirely responsible for funding the research and development, and there are reports that GW Pharmaceuticals’ revenues pale in comparison to its research expenditures. Also, Otsuka still owns much of the intellectual property rights (meaning Sativex patents), so any future research will need their permission. It’s a strange and likely uncomfortable situation.

sativex patent represented by male researcher holding up a beaker

What Does This Mean for Cancer Research?

On the positive side, the patent recognizes the value of cannabis for cancer treatments. And this is not just as a way to counteract the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. But what happens when the partnership is over? It’s unclear how or when GW Pharmaceuticals will have the capacity to pursue the research to support the Sativex patent.

But that doesn’t mean people with cancer are left high and dry. Cannabis is a miraculous plant in many ways because patients can grow and harvest it themselves. Further, while clinical trials help us to understand better the way it works, patients can access the cannabis without turning to expensive pharmaceuticals.

Lastly, even if GW Pharmaceuticals has stalled, cannabis is a hot topic among many pharmaceutical companies. Shortly, we are likely to see many new cannabis-inspired medications hitting the market. In the meantime, keep pushing for access to whole plant medicine.


Author avatar

Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She is lucky enough to live in beautiful British Columbia, Canada where the cannabis industry is exploding. When not writing, she spends much of her time exploring in the coastal forests.

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  1. jay

    They need to step the hell off of weed cures, God gave us weed not big pharm, take your bs and shove it, it came from a natural plant I do believe that means no patents

  2. Hey, weed is still going to be around. I just want the date when they start fixing people with cancer! Anybody out there want to open a book. My money is on about 3 years…

  3. Thomas Kirby

    They will let us have it for cancer when they can tie it up so that it costs the patients tens and thousands of dollars. They will also have to reduce the effectiveness tremendously and use doubletalk to excuse that.

  4. Once “Big Business” get their hands on this it won’t be good for the rest of us.

  5. Kit ward

    It’s about time people were allowed to treat themselves, after all it was the public that has used it for years, now they’re trying to to charge us for curing ourselves.
    This is what is wrong with the idiots in power

  6. It’s true that in 2009, GW & Otsuka Pharmaceuticals moved forward on the patent. Last September, they were indeed granted a Notice of Allowance from the U.S. Patent Office “to go forward” with production of their cannabis-based cancer treatment called “Sativex”. It’s also true that GW’s patented cancer treatment uses ratios of THC and CBD from 1:1 to 1:20 (THC:CBD) to “reduce cell viability, inhibit cell growth or reduce tumor volume”.

    So why do oncologists continue to kill people with deadly poisons before trying natural or (now patented) pharmaceutical alternatives? Because of ignorance and greed; that’s why. Thanks to all who work hard to change that. We’re getting there.

  7. @@@

    Aloha. We the people want, need, deserve and some of us demand a First Amendment solution for full and free access to God given Cannabis in our homes and gardens. The concept of “separation of church and state” fills the need for securing home sanctuaries all over the U.S.A. with zero regulations, permit, or license needed. Equal justice under law requires that home-brew laws apply equally to home grows of Cannabis that’s not in commerce.

    Cannabis hemp is a natural, God given, seed-bearing plant, not an artificial, man-made drug. Government has no – rightful – jurisdiction to prohibit it from us. Full and free access to Cannabis and all the other seed-bearing plants is part of our inheritance as Homo Sapiens born on planet Earth. Let freedom ring! Thank you.


  8. Shane Irvine

    Although I didn’t see how much they are charging for their miracle cure, I’m guessing that it’s more than a bag of good weed.

  9. rick blaisdell

    A bag of weed,a bottle of Hemp CBD, and thou oh Lord Jesus beside me.

  10. Essie Little

    No surprise at this since they own and operate even our patient offices too. Yes we are the step children of the British government. They have been using us like a throw rug to build their crumbling empire since the 1800’s . I bet they get a kick out of our land of the free and home of the brave motto. Well thanks be to heaven the truth of these sick parasites is being exposed to the mass slaves they thought would remain stupid forever. The naked truth is going to kick them is their sorry ass and then they will know its pay back time and hell knows no fury like a freed people with a axe to grind.
    Read the book scum balls you lose it all. Your ship is sunk!!!

  11. Whacko stoner conspiracy theory which competely misrepresents what GW’s patent means. This does nothing to assist with the cannabis campaign. On the contrary, it undermines it.

    • Jennifer Grant

      I would vehemently disagree.

      US Patent #20130059018A1 (as one example at the time of publication) deals directly with cannabis-based cancer treatment. Here’s the abstract to save you some time: This invention relates to the use of phytocannabinoids, either in an isolated form or in the form of a botanical drug substance (BDS) in the treatment of cancer. Preferably the cancer to be treated is cancer of the prostate, cancer of the breast or cancer of the colon.

      Additionally, you can have a gander at other granted and pending patents here: Importantly, there have been at least 11 applications for cannabis-based therapies since the time of publication of this article (the majority relating to cancer treatment).

      If pharmaceutical companies are permitted to develop cannabis-based medicines and conduct research into the same, then cannabis must be a medicine. Therefore, not a Schedule 1 substance (US) with no medicinal value. Pointing out these inconsistencies in regulation are PRECISELY how we further the “cannabis campaign.”