MEDLAB Clinical Limited (ASX: MDC) is close to starting Australia's first clinical trial into using cannabis to treat cancer patients suffering intractable pain.  It announced last Friday that the commencement of the trial is subject to hospital ethics approval and the Therapeutic Goods Administration granting a clinical trial number, both of which are expected to occur in the coming months.

Medlab's cannabis formulation called Nanabis, will be packaged as a mouth spray and will combine the two most known cannabis extracts CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).  Medlab says, "(Nanabis) will be required to be a Schedule 8 drug as a controlled substance, (and) will be manufactured at a GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) facility in Melbourne."

Pain management is an ongoing serious concern for cancer patients as Medlab says, "Recent statistics regarding cancer pain indicate that it is prevalent in 64 per cent of patients with metastatic or advanced stage disease and that for one in two patients with cancer, pain is undertreated."

The Sydney-based company's managing director, Sean Hall says that the trial will take place at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney and expects Nanabis to be available to the Australian market in the next 12 months.

Australian law regarding medicinal marijuana has shifted considerably in the last 12 months. Starting from this month, licenced individuals and companies are now legally permitted to grow and manufacture cannabis for medicinal use.

Patient use of the drug varies quite significantly depending on the laws of each state and territory. In Queensland, cannabis can be legally prescribed to patients with certain illnesses such as MS, epilepsy, cancer and HIV/AIDs. In contrast, at this stage, the drug can only be prescribed to children with severe epilepsy from early 2017 in Victoria.

As a new market for medicinal marijuana begins to emerge in Australia, there has been much foreign and local company interest.  Last month, medicinal cannabis company, Creso Pharma (ASX: CPH), whose operations are centred in Europe and Canada, debuted on the ASX, raising $5 million.

Canadian medicinal cannabis group, Tilray is also working with the NSW Government on clinical trials for chemotherapy patients and hopes to invest $15-20 million to establish commercial operations in Australia soon.

Furthermore, ASX listed company MGC Pharmaceuticals (ASX: MXC) and AusCann (which was later bought out by TW Holdings) have applied for cannabis cultivation licences under the new law.  AusCann managing director, Elaine Darby told the ABC that the company hopes to have marijuana crops planted by mid-next year for supply to patients by the end of 2017.

If the medicinal marijuana market in the United States is any benchmark, the market in Australia has the potential be become quite lucrative. ArcView Market Research in February this year found that sales from medical marijuana in the US grew by 17 per cent from the previous year to $US5.4 billion. It also predicts that the industry is set to grow by a further 25 per cent this year.

Sydney University Business School's Michael Katz, in conjunction with MGC Pharmaceuticals, published a study which found that the demand for medicinal marijuana in Australia could be as high as 8,000 kg a year and worth more than $100 million annually. Tilray president, Brendan Kennedy, went as far as to tell earlier this year that the Australian medicinal cannabis industry has the potential to become a billion dollar industry.

Medlab is trading up 3.23 per cent today, at $0.64 per share.

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