If you are passionate about something and truly believe in it, then don’t give-up, advises Roby Zomer, CEO and Managing Director of MGC Pharmaceuticals, which became the first ever company in the medical cannabis market to IPO on the London Stock Exchange in February, 2021.
Achieving this milestone was not easy. “It took over two years of hard work, particularly to overcome the educational hurdles in dialogue with the FCA and the UK Listing Authority, to get to that moment”, says Roby, but he didn’t give in. He describes the experience of pioneering this route as both “challenging and satisfying”. Following his lead, three more companies working in various parts of the cannabis industry have since listed.
The emerging cannabis-based products industry can be roughly divided into four main sectors: the recreational market which, while most well-known, is illegal in the vast majority of countries; lifestyle and wellbeing products based on CBD, hemp or other cannabis plant derivatives; the medicinal cannabis market where patients receive cannabis on prescription, usually in the form of flowers, oils or tinctures; and pharmaceutical cannabis where companies invest in research, conduct clinical studies, build a dossier of evidence, and submit medicines created to registered formulations for regulatory approval, in the same way as any other pharmaceutical company, such as Pfizer and Merck. This is where MGC sits.
MGC Pharmaceuticals Limited, which is listed on both the London and Australian stock markets, is a biopharma company that uses phytocannabinoids and other plant derivatives to create new medicines. It currently has three products undergoing clinical studies at different stages.
CannEpil, an epilepsy treatment, is in Phase IIb clinical trials in Israel and is approved for the early patient access scheme in Australia, UK and Ireland. CogniCann, which aims to improve the quality of life for dementia and alzheimers patients, is in Phase II studies in Australia; and CimetrA, which prevents and treats the symptoms of Covid-19 (but will also benefit other immune therapies), entered Phase III clinical trials this year and has been submitted to drug agencies in India for emergency approval. In September, AMC Holdings ordered an initial 1000 units of CimetrA for analysis in order to fast track the approvals process in the USA.
Roby says: “Our emphasis is on creating affordable, standardised medicines by combining cutting-edge technology with traditional medicines to improve the effectiveness of natural treatments, and ensure standardised plant based medicines that are cost effective.”
The landmark London market listing is not the first time that Roby and MGC have been cast in the role of pioneer. The company has a history of breaking new ground.
Although it was the second company in the cannabis industry to list on the Australian stock exchange, it was the first to bring a cannabis-based product to market and sell its medicines in the country. MGC was the first company to import cannabis-based medication to Brazil. Its epilepsy treatment was the first to be approved by the Irish health authorities to be covered under the country’s national health insurance, and it was one of the first companies in Europe to achieve an EU GMP to conduct clinical studies.
“It is important to be a pioneer in our market segment,” says Roby. “Not only do we like the challenge of overcoming obstacles, but being a pioneer definitely helps our share price and brings us additional exposure to institutional investment, which drives us onwards and upwards.”
An early and unusual challenge that Roby overcame was moving from a career as a sound engineer in the music industry to leading a pharmaceutical company. He credits his wife for inspiring him and opening his eyes to the potential of medicinal cannabis.
“It wasn’t a difficult transition – I had a good teacher!” he says. “I was a radio engineer working for the Israeli Broadcast Authority, before moving into the biofuels industry. At the time, my wife had a cannabis company based on her being a long time proponent and practitioner of herbal therapies. When we got pregnant and she went on maternity leave, a couple of friends asked me to join them in a cannabis venture. She had the tools and the time to help me translate my music industry and biofuels experience into the cannabis industry, and provide the insight on the potential of cannabis based treatments.”
“There are a surprising number of similarities,” he explains. “It’s all about going with the flow without bypassing certain steps. For example, as a sound engineer, you can’t connect a microphone directly to a speaker and expect it to work, you need an amplifier in the middle. A little understanding of music, engineering and a good home education helped me to bridge the knowledge gap and take-up this challenge. I’m learning on my feet everyday.”
Looking to the future, the biggest challenge facing MGC and the medical cannabis sector as a whole, is further acceptance. “This is the main hurdle to future growth,” explains Roby. “Entering into a dialogue with health authorities around the world, getting acceptance for our products so that we can present the results of our studies to move to the next phases, and to get emergency approvals for our medicines. But I’m optimistic,” he adds.
Covid-19 has oiled the cogs. “The pandemic has had a bigger impact on the pharma sector than just making companies attractive to financial market investors. It has opened minds to the potential of new breakthrough medicines and accelerated innovation,” says Roby.
“Before the pandemic, it was hard to get advocacy to present our medicines to drug agencies, health ministers or doctors. Our products use cumin, tumeric, frankinsense – ingredients that you can find in the Bible, but not in modern medicine! Yet, we are proposing a medicine including such ingredients to treat the worst pandemic in the last 100 years.”
As a result, MCG now sits alongside companies such as Pfizer and Merck with products going through the same stages of clinical trials and with better results.
“We are only scratching one percent of the potential market,” claims Roby. “The market is going to get bigger and bigger as more evidence comes through, more research is published, and doctors feel confident and comfortable prescribing the medicine. In the UK alone it is already a multimillion pound market, but it’s going to be a billion pound market.”
The potential for significant and rapid future growth presents an exciting opportunity for investors looking to diversify their investment away from traditional industries which may be suffering a slow-down as we move on from the pandemic. “There’s still a lot of work to do,” says Roby, “but that means there’s a lot of prosperity to come. I’m quietly confident”, he adds understatedly.
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