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Asthma treatment could be Israel’s latest high achievement in medical cannabis

Pharmacists supply patients with prescribed medical cannabis at the Tikun Olam supplier’s store in Tel Aviv, April 10, 2016. Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90.
Pharmacists supply patients with prescribed medical cannabis at the Tikun Olam supplier’s store in Tel Aviv, April 10, 2016. Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90.

In a development that could spark Israel’s latest groundbreaking achievement within the medical cannabis sector, the Israeli-British cannabis biotech start-up CIITECH announced Oct. 24 that it will fund a research project in collaboration with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem exploring methods for treating asthma with medical cannabis.

Asthma, a pervasive allergic inflammatory lung disease, affects more than 5 million British adults and more than 1 million British children. An estimated 300 million people worldwide suffer from the disease, and 250,000 deaths per year are attributed to asthma. The number of people with asthma worldwide is expected to increase by more than 100 million by 2025.

Israel has become a hub for the study and distribution of medical cannabis in recent years. In May, Israel implemented a new lawthat essentially decriminalizes recreational marijuana use nationwide, and in August, a joint committee of the Israeli Health and Finance ministries approved a measure allowing for international exportation of the plant. According to some reports, Israel could earn up to $4 billion annually in revenue from medical cannabis exports.

Clifton Flack, the founder of CIITECH, lauded the advantages of conducting his company’s research and development in the Jewish state.

“It’s where [medical cannabis research] began. It’s where it continues at an accelerated pace. It’s the only [country] with legal, approved and cannabis-friendly R&D centers in the world, and it’s cost-effective,” Flack told, adding, “Israel’s scientists are dynamic outside-the-box thinkers.”

The CIITECH-funded research project will be conducted at Hebrew University’s Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabinoid Research, and led by researchers Profs. Raphael Mechoulam and Francesca Levi-Schaffer. Mechoulam, a pioneer in the medical cannabis field, discovered THC—the primary psychoactive compound in the plant—in the 1970s, while Levi-Schaffer is an expert in asthma research.

The research project focuses on researching the effects of the non-psychoactive cannabis compound CBD and identifying its potential inhibitory impact on allergic airway inflammation that causes asthma attacks. According to CIITECH’s leadership, the study is expected to yield results within six months.

“CBD is proven to have anti-inflammatory properties,” said Flack. “Since asthma and other respiratory conditions present themselves as inflammation of the airway, it’s long been believed that cannabis might be a good therapeutic candidate.”

Flack said the research focuses on identifying a “specific mechanism by which cannabinoids bind to the cells for maximum effect,” and emphasized that CBD is “non-psychoactive and 100 percent legal in the U.K.,” where his company has operations.

Hebrew University’s Mechoulam also cited CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties, and said that the research team looks forward “to investigating whether [CBD] will be effective in treating asthma and related respiratory conditions.”

Ultimately, researchers hope that cannabis-based asthma medicines can serve as an alternative to traditional respiratory treatment methods, which predominantly involve the use of inhaled steroids in metered doses.

“Most of the symptoms of allergic disease patients are controlled by either symptomatic drugs or corticosteroids. However, some patients are steroid-resistant and allergic diseases such as severe asthma have been labeled as unmet clinical needs by the WHO (World Health Organization),” stated Levi-Schaffer. “We believe our research will provide a novel and effective solution to treating this condition.”

Although the asthma research project’s results are pending, CIITECH already distributes CBD-based products through a U.K.-based eCommerce store. The products can purportedly be used for the treatment of pulmonary diseases.

“Our current CBD oil products can and are being used by asthma sufferers for relief,” said Flack. “We are, however, developing a specific formulation and cold vaporizer that may better suit customers with respiratory problems.”

In addition to conducting its research in Israel and having operations in the U.K., the company is actively planning international expansion. CIITECH is seeking international partners for global license agreements for its Provacan and Herbalica brands, and is simultaneously exploring “the best investment pathway” to fund its growth, Flack explained.

CIITECH’s announcement regarding its asthma research project came as iCAN: Israel-Cannabis—a developer of medical cannabis formulations and clinical trials—was set to host its inaugural CannaTech UK convention in London on Oct. 26. CIITECH is a sponsor for the conference, which is being held to address cannabis regulation challenges unique to Europe and to feature presentations from Israeli medical cannabis experts.

“Israel is by far the most advanced [nation] when it comes to cannabis research and trials due to its supportive regulatory environment and collaborative healthcare ecosystem, underpinned by decades of experience,” Flack said. “Even in the U.S., where it is legal in some states, obtaining the necessary regulatory approvals for cannabis research and trials is exceptionally difficult as cannabis is illegal on a federal level.”

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