With StartCon fast approaching (1st/2nd December), we all eagerly anticipate listening to the leaders in global technology discuss the opportunities at our fingertips. One such opportunity globally, and in Australia, is medical Cannabis. Our Sydney correspondent, Matthew Parker from MitchelLake, was able to sit down with Adam Miller, the founder of Budding Tech, Australia’s first medical cannabis accelerator. Adam will be at StartCon, but we were able to spend some time with him to discuss the opportunity for medical Cannabis in Australia, and around the world. Tickets to StartCon are still available and can be purchased with Techboard's Discount code here.
MP: So for those of us not in the know, quickly summarise the current state of legislation of marijuana in Australia?
AM: In 2016, the legislation around medical cannabis was amended to allow for the domestic cultivation and manufacturing of cannabis for medical and research purposes. In October 2016, cannabis was rescheduled from schedule 9, meaning it was prohibited, to schedule 8, meaning it can be prescribed by a Specialist Doctor. This means it is available, but only as a registered medicine. As a result, that means that the products available will have to undergo traditional clinical trials which can take up to 10 years. Australia, although progressive, still has many hurdles due to the rescheduling.
There are already products available from 2 separate schemes that apply to “unregistered medicines”. If products have shown sufficient evidence for safety and efficacy then doctors can prescribe cannabis, but this involves significant amount of paperwork and patients must go through a complex structure of approvals.
Over the last decade a body of research has been released around the medical use of cannabis out of California, and Israel. The short story is that cannabis supports an internal regulatory system, and this has been shown to be effective in a variety of different ways including; in different pain symptoms, support in the curing of cancer, as anti inflammatories, as an effective treatment against parkinson's, and is an effective combat against a number of different neural issues. It is a natural product, and has been shown to be less harmful than many of the drugs currently on market. Of course more research must be done to uncover as much information as possible, but currently all signs point in the same direction.
MP: Give us some context, what is the global opportunity for medical marijuana and what is the opportunity here in Australia for medical marijuana companies?
AM: Global trend for cannabis industry is that the market is set to be worth more than $55 billion in the next 10 years. That number only covers a small number of indications for cannabis as well, so as we publish and validate more research, that number is expected to increase significantly. It’s growing as fast as the internet did in America in the early 2000s. In this year alone more than a dozen countries have legislated to support the use of medical cannabis.
In Australia, the opportunity is quite unique as it was the first to introduce federal legislation to open up the cannabis industry. In addition, because Australia has a strong workforce, a fantastic research capability, a strong academic framework and strong agricultural skill-sets, I anticipate that Australia is in position to become a leader in the production and manufacturing of cannabis, as well as the global export of cannabis. We are also able to conduct clinical research here and have a very high standard of research, meaning that products developed here can quite easily be exported to the rest of the world.
The industry is forecasted to be generating $300million revenue annually in Australia, and to put that in context, Australia supplies a majority of the global poppy industry and that is currently worth $280million, so the opportunity for cannabis is significant given it has only been available for 2 years.
MP: Why did you create Budding Tech? Why did you decide to create an accelerator vs founding your own technology company?
AM: I created Budding Tech because I had a personal interest in medical cannabis. I have a sick family member who in my view could have been treated using medical cannabis but hasn’t had access to this because of the roadblocks around the product.
Professionally, I had an insight that there was a significant potential for medical cannabis before it was legalised in Australia. I chose to set up Budding Tech as an accelerator because I felt there was an opportunity to work with researchers and scientists to create IP and then to try and formulate my own strategy in an area of the market I did not have complete understanding. In order to create the same understanding I would have had to go to university, or move to America to learn about the industry and I didn’t feel that was the most advantageous position I could take. So currently we are working with scientists to create amazing new ways to commercialise the use of cannabis while Australia is creating a new market.
We have made a significant amount of progress since we have launched both locally and internationally. We have collaborated with companies on the ASX as well as in Israel and America as well as working with various universities. We are creating a framework for the research of cannabis to put Australia on the map as a leading hub for bio-pharma for medical cannabis.
MP: What have been some of the key achievements of Budding Tech over the past 2 years?
AM: We’ve worked with MGC Pharmaceuticals and the University of Sydney to produce the first and second white-paper on medical cannabis. Last year in Australia we ran the first medical cannabis innovation conference, this year we held an investors symposium as a part of Spark festival. Most recently we have started working with RMIT University on a number of projects in collaboration with MGC Pharma, and we’ve signed MOUs with leading academic institutes in countries like Israel (more to be announced here shortly!). So what we’ve achieved is a foundation of a pipeline that will allow us to capitalise on the research opportunities that no one in the world will have access to, and 2018 will be our year of execution. The last two years we have been building the foundation, and in 2018 we will be housing this research and building them into commercial entities. The final part for 2018 is launching a fund in conjunction with another organisation to invest in commercial cannabis companies.
MP: What role do non industry technology companies have to play in growing the medical marijuana industry in Australia?
AM: There are significant opportunities around education technologies and regulation technologies. For example, we’re working with a blockchain company to make it easier to track the use of cannabis sales. But in Australia the real opportunity is within research. We realised this very quickly during our innovation conference. A number of pitches in the event were around data platforms, vapes and education platforms, but those sorts of technologies aren’t very applicable for the Australian market right now, they’re more appropriate for the Canadian or American market. I really believe the opportunity to build a business around the medical model, is in developing projects in the field of research - bio-pharma, life science and plant science. This is what we learned over years of market research during the creation of Budding Tech.
MP: How far do we still need to go from a legislation perspective? What needs to happen in order to facilitate the growth of medical marijuana industry?
AM: Well i’m a founder and board member of the Medical Cannabis Council which is the first national peak body to represent cannabis across Australia. Our main focus is to dissolve federal and state legislation conflictions. For example, we have federal legislations, but then differing state legislations which can make it more challenging for patients to get access to cannabis. We also want to open up Australia for export in order to encourage new companies to set up.
As a closing comment, it’s a very exciting and very fast evolving space. I highly encourage people to start doing their research, it’s a fantastic investment opportunity if you can be patient. As i’ve already said the medical cannabis market is predicted to be worth over $55 billion in the next 10 years and is growing as fast as the internet did. This just shows it’s not only going to exponentially grow, but also disrupt the medical paradigm as we know it today.