UK’s medical cannabis industry
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Dr. Frank D’Ambrosio, CMO of Block Commodities Plc, provides an insight into the UK’s medical cannabis industry

The UK’s medical cannabis industry is in its early stages. In November 2018, the British Government made it legal to prescribe cannabis on the NHS, but very few people seem to have noticed, and even fewer have benefited from its application. Medical cannabis can treat a whole range of health problems; Alzheimer’s, seizures, mental illness, Parkinson’s, chronic pain, the list is endless. And yet, regulation and red tape make it almost impossible to fully realise its treatment possibilities.

In North America, we’re relatively advanced in this field. Millions of patients have access to medical cannabis, with Canada and an ever-growing list of states legalising the plant completely. The general public is seeing just how much of a positive impact it can have on health and to sweeten the pot, the government have access to massive tax revenues.

Despite the UK already being the largest producer of legal cannabis in the world, progress towards widespread adoption of the medicine is sluggish. But there are companies working to speed up that process, including Block Commodities. Block is one of the few publicly listed companies in the UK operating in the cannabis industry. It was originally founded to drive value in the African agriculture industry by bringing innovative technology products to the fore. Towards the end of 2018, the company expanded its focus to include research, investment and value creation in the nascent European medical cannabis market.

At present, Block’s operations are largely in Africa, cultivating cannabis for research purposes and driving the understanding of plants efficacy. However, this is only an early step. The company plans to invest in the research and development of a range of cannabis-based healthcare products, including but not limited to medicines, nutraceuticals, dietary supplements and cosmetic products.

To aid in that goal, I recently joined Block’s Scientific Advisory Team (SAT) as Chief Medical Officer. The SAT is a select group of experienced scientists and healthcare professionals operating in the medical cannabis space. Working alongside me on the SAT are:

  • Professor Justin Stebbing, Professor of Cancer Medicine and Oncology at the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.
  • Dr Olusola Idowu, CEO of HexisLab and accomplished scientist in the application of plant extracts for therapeutics.
  • Professor Andy Garner, Dean of Medicine & Health Sciences and Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Keele University.

Together, we are advising the Board of Directors on its ongoing work in the cannabis industry. With our combined expertise, we believe that Block is the best-positioned company in the UK to build understanding and subsequently drive the adoption of one of the most under-utilised medicines in the world.

Initially, the focus will be on bringing a broader range of effective CBD based products to the UK market. But in time, we aim to be change-makers in the UK’s medical cannabis industry. The Block team is refreshingly passionate about the potential of the plant, and the benefits it could have on millions of lives across the UK. To achieve those benefits, companies need to contribute meaningfully to the UK’s research into the efficacy of cannabis, and that is exactly what Block plans to do.

There is little regulation on cannabis-related products in the UK. This has led to an influx of subpar entries to the CBD market. This doesn’t help anyone, and ultimately hinders advances for all other cannabis products. Block’s strategy is to invest in businesses around the world that are at the forefront of the cannabis research and development sector so that it can produce products of unrivalled quality and consistency.

Block is currently working with groups of investors, licence holders, processors and distributors to develop a “seed to consumer” vertical. We are reviewing trial studies with discrete international patient groups by condition. Our SAT members are engaged in work with charities and university hospitals defining rigorous models of engagement with a variety of plant strains, with our focus initially on CBD based offerings. Our partners are already seeing extraordinary results from pilot-studies, and we consider that the organic CBD growths we are developing in Africa will only strengthen the quality and appeal of this range. In controlling the entire process: seed selection, management of growth, processing, packaging and critically the origination of plant-strain for development for use, we can robustly secure and maintain the quality, consistency, governance and industry compliance.

Ultimately, quality not quantity will define success in the UK’s burgeoning medical cannabis industry. With the dedication of the management board and the expertise of the SAT that Block has created, I believe it has what it takes to become a market leader, not just in the UK, but globally.


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