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Boost for UK medical cannabis sector as licensing clarified

UK government health secretary, Matt Hancock, has told a highly-influential House of Commons committee that medical cannabis will not need to be tested through randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in order to be licensed. The positive news comes in the wake of Hancock’s decision to launch a process aimed at removing barriers to medicinal cannabis being provided to people in need.

The top government official told the Health and Social Care Select Committee the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency had already started the licensing process for medical cannabis, with a decision expected in autumn 2019. The news will come as a boost to the sector after previous comments by the outgoing medical officer for England appeared to suggest RCTs were necessary.

Medicinal cannabis

Sally Davies, outgoing chief medical officer for England, told MPs in March 2019 that medical cannabis could only be licensed through RCTs, adding that the process needed to start as soon as possible with funding from the pharmaceutical industry. The government-funded National Institute for Health Research has already put out two calls for trial funding, which are set to close on 31 July 2019.

However, when asked by MPs whether the licensing process will need RCTs, Hancock said: “Well, no, because the licensing process takes into account global evidence. You don’t have to have trials in this country.

“I’ve put in place a process review to make sure the process of getting the drug to the people who need it goes as well as possible.”

On 8 April 2019, Hancock announced that he had asked NHS England to launch a process evaluation of medical cannabis prescribing to “address barriers” to its prescription in order to ensure that medical cannabis reaches patients in need.

Hancock’s predecessor, Sir Norman Lamb, had previously warned that if medical cannabis was available “only after the route of clinical trials; we will be waiting years”.

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