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Handelsblatt: STADA Stada enters the cannabis market - More acceptance for "therapy that is still stigmatised"

One of Germany's largest pharmaceutical companies is launching its first cannabis products. It is still a niche market, but Stada believes it has great growth potential.

Maike Telgheder, March 5, 2021

Frankfurt. Cannabis is not only an interesting market for start-ups or Canadian hemp farmers. As of Monday, one of Germany's largest pharmaceutical companies will also become active in this field: Hesse’s Stada is launching its first flower products.

"We have been observing the medical cannabis market for some time and have come to the conclusion that it is an interesting addition to our portfolio," says Eelco Ockers, head of Germany at Stada. It is "an option for people for whom established therapies no longer work or do not work sufficiently."

The company considers cannabis to be a promising market: "In the short term, it is an investment for us, but in the medium term we want to grow with the products and earn from them," says Ockers.

Since 2017, therapeutic use of cannabis has been permitted in Germany and can be prescribed by doctors for serious illnesses. According to experience to date, the statutory health insurance funds reimburse the therapy in around two-thirds of cases. In total, more than 320,000 prescriptions were approved in Germany last year, if one extrapolates the SHI figures available for the first nine months to the whole year.

The statutory health insurance funds are estimated to have spent around 150 million euros gross on cannabis as a medicine. This means that cannabis is still a niche market in relation to the total SHI pharmaceutical market of more than 40 billion euros. But Stada manager Ockers estimates that the market in Germany is currently growing by around 30 percent a year and has the potential to grow even faster in the future.

The medicinal effect of cannabis is mainly due to the ingredients tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC has an intoxicating and relaxing effect, CBD is said to have an anxiety-relieving and relaxing, but also anti-inflammatory, effect.

Stada is launching two flower products at the start and plans to offer a total of five flower products and three extracts with different THC and CBD concentrations in the coming months. The company is sourcing the products from Canadian specialist Medipharm Labs, with which it entered into a cooperation last autumn.

According to Ockers, Stada wants to focus primarily on the indications chronic pain, neurology and oncology. 28 sales representatives specially trained in cannabis issues are to inform doctors about medical aspects and prescribing. Stada is currently the largest German pharmaceutical company to enter the cannabis market, with sales of €2.6 billion in 2019.

Already in January, the company Neuraxpharm from Langenfeld in the Rhineland started in the market with four extracts. The company, which was founded in 1985 and has gross sales of around 500 million euros worldwide, specialises in the treatment of diseases of the central nervous system. Accordingly, Neuraxpharm also concentrates on these indications with cannabis.

"We have good contacts with neurologists and psychiatrists. They have clearly signalled to us that there is a need for cannabis as a medicine beyond the indication of pain," says Olaf Krampe, head of Germany at Neuraxpharm. For example, in epilepsy patients, one third of whom have such severe seizures that they cannot be adequately treated with existing therapies. Or also Parkinson's patients who suffer more and more convulsions in the course of their disease. Krampe adds that good experiences have already been made with cannabinoid-containing medicine for anxiety disorders.

With the entry of pharmaceutical companies, the cannabis market in Germany is reaching a new stage of maturity, says Tobias Haber, cannabis expert at the market research company Insight Health. "The big players are bringing a high level of acceptance to a therapy that is still stigmatised."

According to the institute's data, there are currently about 90 suppliers in Germany who sell cannabis flowers, extracts or medicinal products. Of these, 70 to 80 import flowers. Above all, start-ups and the Canadian cannabis companies such as Canopy Growth, Aurora, Aphria and Tilray define the market. In addition, wholesalers and smaller pharmaceutical companies like Pohl Boskamp act as importers.

"The pharmaceutical companies know the drugs market. Of course, access to doctors has a completely different quality if you have been active in the market for years," says Haber from Insight Health. An advantage is also that the pharmaceutical companies can present not only cannabis flowers and extracts, but also their other medicines from the portfolio. "By using cannabis as a co-medication, a holistic therapy can thus be offered."

Neuraxpharm sees cannabis as a growth engine for its development in Germany, as Krampe says. In the medium term, the company wants to achieve sales in the double-digit millions with it. Neuraxpharm is cooperating with the Israeli cannabis company Panaxia. In addition to the four extracts, the company wants to offer a solution for inhalation next and later also offer starting materials that are necessary for the production of capsules and tablets.

With the different dosage forms, Neuraxpharm wants to differentiate itself from competitors - a strategy that the company is also pursuing in other areas: "Especially with cannabis, the pharmacist should be able to produce the products individually for the patient's needs," says Krampe.

In the future, Neuraxpharm wants to offer medicinal hemp in other European countries such as France, the Czech Republic, Austria and Poland. In France, the company is involved in a government model project on the use of cannabis for medical purposes, which could be a door opener for the company, says Krampe. Stada also has ambitions beyond Germany, as Ockers confirms. "If other markets legalise cannabis as medicine, we will certainly take a look at them, he says.

Market expert Haber expects more pharmaceutical companies to enter the cannabis market in the future. "There are some suppliers who have a portfolio also beyond pain indications that could be well complemented by cannabis products. The advantage of cannabis at the moment is that it has not been approved for a specific indication, but rather generally for serious illnesses.”

(Translated by STADA Global Communications)


Source: Handelsblatt,