Israel’s Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, one of the world’s largest generic drug companies, is taking its first steps into the medical cannabis industry. On Sunday, the pharmaceutical giant announced that it had signed a new agreement with Cannbit-Tikun Olam, the largest medical cannabis supplier in Israel, to market and distribute medical cannabis products in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and in the near future in Ukraine .
Under the agreement, Cannbit-Tikun Olam will produce medicinal cannabis oils that are rich in THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, and CBD (cannabidiol), a compound that lacks the psychoactive component and that is used in natural medicines. The oils will be based on cannabis strains developed by the Israeli company and selected by Teva who will then market them under a new joint brand.
The oils are processed according to the “instructions and strict standards” of the drug manufacturer, the companies said.
Teva Israel and Cannbit-Tikun Olam said they will initially work together for a period of 10 years, with the option to extend for an additional nine years.
Avinoam Sapir, general manager of Cannbit-Tikun Olam, who previously served as CEO of Teva Israel from 2013-2020, told the Times of Israel on Sunday that the agreement was “a huge, important deal” and a vote of confidence in Teva Israel’s emerging medical cannabis sector.
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“Teva is a huge brand and the cannabis market is a huge potential market for them. To be players in this arena, they will have another medical cannabis brand with Cannbit-Tikun Olam, ”he said.
Sapir said the medical cannabis industry in Israel is a developing market that will hit NIS 1.2 billion ($ 390 million) in 2021, up from NIS 700 million ($ 224 million) last year.
“We already have around 100,000 patients [in Israel] get medical cannabis regularly, ”said Sapir. He hopes to start distributing the oils with Teva by the first half of 2022.
Illustrative. The process of making oil from cannabis plants. (Chen Galili)
Sapir said that while medical cannabis is not yet legal in the Palestinian Authority, there are ongoing discussions with Palestinian health authorities to allow the use of medicinal cannabis “for specific therapeutic effects such as autism and pain and various disorders”.
He estimated the Palestinian Authority market at around 50,000 patients.
The market in Ukraine with a population of 45 million people has “huge potential”, but “it depends on how they are legalized” [medical cannabis]”Said Sapir.
“We are proud of Teva Israel’s vote of confidence in selecting us as a strategic partner for Teva’s entry into the medical cannabis products market. I believe this is one of the most important industry agreements in Israel in recent years and will position Cannbit-Tikun Olam and Teva Israel as leading players in the ever growing and developing medical cannabis market in Israel and worldwide. “Said Sapir in the announcement.
“The medical cannabis arena is developing and professionalizing at a dizzying pace in Israel, and there is more openness to it in Israel and around the world,” said Yossi Ofek, CEO of Teva Israel.
“Today, it is clear to many in the pharmaceutical industry and the medical community that the use of oils made from certain strains of cannabis can provide additional treatment options and respond to unmet medical needs of patients,” said Ofek.
Sapir said that Cannbit-Tikun Olam (a merged company following Cannbit’s acquisition of Tikun Olam in 2019) participated in 35 clinical trials of its cannabis strains over the course of 2021 to find treatments for various conditions such as Crohn’s disease, epilepsy and Symptoms to test for autism in children.
The deal between Cannbit and Tikun Olam came two weeks after US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer apparently made a big bet on medicinal cannabis with its proposed acquisition of clinical-phase Arena Pharmaceuticals for a total of around $ 6.7 billion was.
Cannabis in Israel
The use of medical cannabis has been legal for patients with serious illnesses in Israel since the 1990s, but over the past decade the number of users has grown exponentially as the drug gained widespread political and public support. Israel has become a global leader in the cultivation and research of medicinal cannabis as doctors prescribe cannabis to help with a range of physical, mental and emotional disorders including PTSD, gastrointestinal disorders, palliative end-of-life care, chronic pain and epilepsy.
Patients must apply for a license to use medicinal cannabis, which they can obtain through pharmacies. According to the Israeli Medical Cannabis Agency (IMCA), which operates under the auspices of the Israeli Ministry of Health, 108,013 licenses were issued in Israel by November 2021, up from 104,907 in October. In February of this year just over 94,000 licenses had been issued.
A worker looks after cannabis plants at a Tikun Olam plant near the northern Israeli city of Safed. (Abir Sultan / Flash 90)
“The rate at which the number of patients in Israel is increasing is dramatic,” said Sapir.
He also pointed out that the deal with Teva Israel will initially focus on oils, but the opportunities are huge. Medical cannabis, said Sapir, is “a very good and effective drug” amid a growing body of studies showing its benefits.
Recreational use of cannabis is currently illegal in Israel, despite the fact that the Ministry of Public Security partially decriminalized it in 2017, imposing fines and treatment for first-time offenders instead of criminal proceedings.
In June, a bill to decriminalize recreational cannabis use could not be voted on in the Knesset plenary due to opposition from legislators from the coalition’s Islamist Ra’am party.
A new version of the law has been drafted that would bring about major reforms in the medical cannabis industry in Israel and make it easier to access without decriminalizing recreational use. This law was subjected to a preliminary reading in the Knesset in October, with the assistance of Ra’am.
Under the terms of the bill, those licensed by the Ministry of Health are allowed to legally grow, distribute and possess cannabis for medicinal purposes. The new legislation aims to overcome a chronic shortage of medicinal cannabis, which is available to prescription only due to strict regulations for manufacturers.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Health said it had set up a committee to look into the effects of banning substances or products containing CBD from the list of dangerous drugs.
The ministry said it would look into the possibility of removing CBD from the list, which means it would be possible to market products containing the active ingredient in Israel, with an emphasis on oral and topical consumption. The committee will also examine all potential benefits of products containing CBD and review the testing and monitoring processes.
The Knesset approved the formation of a cannabis committee in December, spearheaded by New Hope MK Sharren Haskel, to investigate further legalization and other cannabis-related issues.
Yaakov Schwartz and TOI staff contributed to this report.