Victoria is doubling its fast-track supply of medicinal cannabis for children with severe epilepsy, saying it will rely on imported product while it builds up a local supply chain.
Under the state’s compassionate early-access scheme, imported medicinal cannabis product has been provided so far to 29 children with severe intractable epilepsy.
The scheme would now be expanded to 60 children. Another 30 children would be added once locally produced cannabis drugs came on line, Health Minister Jill Hennessy said.
“Victoria’s leadership has seen some of our sickest kids get the treatment they so desperately need. That’s why we’re expanding our compassionate early-access scheme,” she said, announcing the move on Wednesday.
The minister said cannabis products had helped reduce seizures and significantly improved the children’s quality of life.
“This scheme helped ensure families could afford access to this life-changing medicine, which would have otherwise been financially out of reach,” the minister said.
Minister Hennessy said the federal government now needed to accelerate the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme listing of medicinal cannabis products to make them affordable for every Australian who needed them.
Doctors have become increasingly critical of state health authorities for blocking attempts to prescribe medicinal cannabis for a range of conditions, with RACGP President Bastian Seidel recently calling for a consistent national approach to regulation.
In a show of confidence in the future of medicinal cannabis, Victoria also on Wednesday revealed a strategy to supply half of Australia’s medicinal cannabis by 2028.
It announced a deal with Canopy Growth Corporation, of Canada, to assist with strain development, cultivation, manufacturing and education.
AMA Vice President Dr Tony Bartone said the Victorian trial with epilectic children would be “very instructive” in terms of the long-term usage and availability of medicinal cannabis in Australia, but he stressed the need for more research.
“Information obtained from around the world suggests that there’s a role in certain difficult cases, of refractory cases, of paediatric epilepsy, of multiple sclerosis, the cachexia or the wasting that goes along with HIV and post-chemotherapy,” the Melbourne GP told reporters.
“So there are some roles for it, potentially, and what we need to do is rapidly try to get the information and the evidence to do that.”
Most approvals for Victorians so far have been for cannabidiol products, which can be used to reduce seizures, control nausea and vomiting, and other therapeutic applications.
TGA approvals have been granted for 70 Victorians to receive medicinal cannabis under its Special Access Scheme since changes to the federal narcotics law took effect in November 2016.
“Most of those approvals were for Schedule 4 cannabidiol products, which do not need any additional state-level approval, a Victorian health department spokesperson said.
Seventeen of the 70 approvals were for Schedule 8 products, for which a state-level S8 approval is required for a prescribing doctor.
“Victoria has not refused any Schedule 8 treatment permit applications where the doctor has approval from the TGA under the SAS scheme to prescribe the product,” the spokesperson said.
Victoria’s Minister for Agriculture, Jaala Pulford, said the state’s development strategy for medicinal cannabis would create as many as 500 jobs.
“This is the birth of a new and emerging industry right here in Victoria and that means more jobs for our state,” she said.
Before the commonwealth cleared the way for licensed cultivation and manufacture of medicinal cannabis, Victoria said it would set up its own regulatory scheme.