Less than two years after launching, UK-based medical cannabis company LYPHE Group has emerged as a leading player in the patient care field, and now has its sights set on replicating the model in Europe.
As its platform, The Medical Cannabis Clinics, becomes the UK’s first and only such specialist to be awarded a ‘Good’ rating by the independent Care Quality Commission, LYPHE Group’s group managing director Jonathan Nadler talks to Jane Hall.
LIKE many before him, Jonathan Nadler’s relationship with cannabis was changed forever when he saw first-hand the positive effect taking it had on a terminally ill family member.
It was 2017, and the entrepreneur had just left behind the world of strategic consultancy and was looking for his next project.
The previous year, his wife’s aunt was diagnosed with cancer.
“Unfortunately, like so many people that have got into this industry, it comes from someone in the family being unwell and family members being desperate to find something that might be able to help them,” Jonathan explains.
“My wife’s aunt was terminally ill and was bedridden. We were trying to work out what we could do to help, and she actually turned to us and said her hairdresser had suggested she try cannabis oil.
“She managed to get some – I don’t know how – and started taking it. We went round to her house two weeks later and she was downstairs, was making food for us all, and was happy. It was kind of the old her that we saw again.
“For me, that was the tipping point. I started researching it quite heavily and looked at all the positive evidence coming out of Israel and Canada.”
The only way Nadler could get into cannabis at that time was through CBD.
UK’s Medical Cannabis Awakening
So he launched Budca, the UK’s first organic, CBD oil range. Looking for financial backing he discovered the London-based Cannabis Fund, ECH, which ended up buying the start-up.
Nadler was kept on as a partner with a remit to found and lay the groundwork for a medical cannabis business.
This was happening around July 2018, when Hannah Deacon was aggressively campaigning for the legalisation of medical cannabis on behalf of her young son, Alfie Dingley, who has a rare form of epilepsy and was suffering up to 30 seizures a day.
Political and public opinion was beginning to change and Nadler teamed up with leading consultant neurologist and medical cannabis expert, Professor Mike Barnes, to build The Academy of Medical Cannabis.
This was, says Nadler, ‘really the first stepping stone for us’. He said: “We realised that no doctor was going to be able to prescribe medical cannabis when the law changed in November 2018 unless they had the right education, so we took it upon ourselves to build this online education platform.
“It was 12 modules and it basically taught doctors and healthcare professionals how to prescribe medical cannabis, what it is, what the cannabinoids actually mean, how they work, what the contraindications are, the interactions with different medications, and how it works with diverse conditions.
“It launched to coincide with the rescheduling of cannabis in November 2018, and from there we built this blueprint that could navigate the medical market in the UK to give patients access to medical cannabis, because it was very challenging to see how they would gain an entry.”
The platform has now been translated into eight languages and boasts 45 hours of online education. Nadler says more than 6,000 healthcare professionals from across Europe have used it.
That was the start of what has become LYPHE Group, a patient-access ecosystem that provides clinics, dispensing, an import infrastructure and educational services to patients, doctors and the industry.
Initiated in autumn 2019, the group consists of The Academy of Medical Cannabis; a digital prescription service called Dispensary Green; Astral Health, which imports and distributes medical cannabis; the NOIDECS medical cannabis range launched in September 2020; and The Medical Cannabis Clinics (TMCC).
The latter has just become the first ever rated ‘Good’ cannabis clinic in the UK as judged by the independent Care Quality Commission (CQC), which regulates to ensure patients are provided with safe, effective, compassionate and high-quality treatment.
The venture, which was awarded one of four licences to trade as a cannabis clinic by the CQC in 2019 and has been the first to be assessed, operates completely via telemedicine services, although it has a bricks and mortar outlet in London’s prestigious Harley Street.
It started trading in January last year and by December 2020 had gone from zero to 1,500 private adult patients. Now TMCC has more than 4,000 on the books – around 60% of all medical cannabis patients in the UK – and a national network of 30 prescribing doctors. “It’s a significant number when you think that there are only around 50 currently in the UK prescribing medicinal cannabis,” Nadler says.
TMCC treats a range of health disorders, from chronic pain to psychiatric and neurological conditions and symptoms, cancer pain, gastroenterological problems such as Crohn’s disease, colitis, IBS and IBD, as well as ailments associated with complex care.
300,000 UK Patients By 2025
Nadler says the UK is predicted to have more than 10,000 patients by the end of this year with numbers rising to 30,000 in 2022 and then as high as 300,000 in 2025, as people seek alternatives to what the NHS has to offer. “There is such a huge appetite for medical cannabis consumption in the UK that it went without saying that we would start to see an influx of patients coming through our doors. And, we don’t see it ending anytime soon,” he states.
Of those patients already signed up, Nadler says: “We are seeing phenomenal success across the board. It is unbelievable to see how the quality of life so miraculously changes for many, from being bedridden and not having the ability to speak to people, to being able to go about their normal daily lives, managing their families, and seeing their friends.”
Now LYPHE Group is looking to export its ecosystem. It is already operating on Jersey in the Channel Islands, but Nadler says Europe is the next logical step. “We are looking at taking our UK blueprint into Europe. Obviously, there are different regulations in different markets, so you have to adjust and adhere to whatever those compliance markers are, but essentially it will be the same model: clinical services, digital dispensing and educating doctors up front.”
Patients will be private – as they are in the UK. Nadler describes it as a “challenging situation” with patients here paying for their own medication with no reimbursement from either the NHS or insurance companies.
It’s why at the end of last year LYPHE Group decided to bring its own range of NOIDECS products to market. The EU-GMP and equivalent GMP medicines feature five oils from sativa and indica strains, eight flowers, one dissolving wafter technology and a medical vape developed by Kanabo, which is imminently launching.
They have been carefully curated from prescribing intelligence obtained from TMCC.
LYPHE has teamed up with Europe’s largest patient-outcome registry, Project Twenty21 to get the drugs out into the UK specials medicine space.
Nadler sees it as a way to reach those people who can’t afford the prices charged in the private sector, with Twenty21 offering subsidised medical cannabis at £150 per patient per month rather than the £250-£300 many are faced with paying.
“Twenty21 is the ideal launch pad for us to deliver safe and affordable patient access now, and expand access to more British patients into the future,” Nadler explains.
“Our clinics have been servicing patients from Twenty21 pretty much since they started, but there is clearly still a lot of work to be done as our premise is open access – that those who deserve or need access to medical cannabis can get it.”
NHS Trials Imminent
Nadler anticipates the NHS will begin working with providers like LYPHE to execute trials in the near future, creating a possible alternative pathway for certain conditions.
But he adds a word of caution. “We don’t believe for one second that they are going to open medical cannabis up to the NHS fully because, quite frankly, if you open it up to some of the major conditions it is being used for within our private clinics, such as pain and certain psychiatric disorders, you are going to be potentially unlocking it to more than 50% of the UK, and the cost would be prohibitive.
“I can’t see a time when the NHS will allow GPs to prescribe medical cannabis for patients in pain, unfortunately, although I know that’s what lots of people want. I think what we will have is a quasi-kind of private-NHS medical cannabis system with smaller groups of patients with certain conditions serviced with medical cannabis, and other larger groups where it is either insurance backed or paid for by the patient.”
As far as TMCC is concerned, flower continues to be the most prescribed medicine, more than had been anticipated when the clinics launched.
Nadler discloses: “When we started there was a lot of oils being prescribed, but that is only really because the first throes for us were mainly neurological type conditions that were best-suited to oils.
“But there was suddenly an influx of patients for whom flowers made more sense, for example, treating breakthrough pain or certain sleep conditions, so we see a very lopsided flower market here in the UK right now.
“And of those patients using flower, it is really a combination of balanced flower and high THC flower which is vaporised.
“There is still a very big oil market and we do encourage the prescription of oils
“But we think a new application we are about to launch in the UK will see a significant shift.”
Move Away From Flowers
Nadler continues: “We have a NOIDECS distillate vape cartridge coming to market in a couple of weeks. It is essentially a metred dose cartridge of oil which is fitted into a medical device that gets rid of the hassle of taking a flower and having to process it in a grinder before consuming it.
“We believe it will have a major impact on the market, which is very dominated by flower.
“We want the market to become more medical. We want there to be more options like those we know from the last 60 years of pharmaceuticals.
“The thing that has been stopping it from happening is the efficacy of these applications. Unfortunately, nothing has got close to having the same efficacy as flower, so we hope this distillate vape is the first that does. We also hope that new science goes into other applications that can give us products that are much more effective than flower in the future.”
Main Image: LYPHE Group’s NOIDECS medical cannabis range