CSIRO: a new power player in the medicinal cannabis scene

CSIRO’s Botanical Extracts Lab in Melbourne has secured a license to develop medicinal cannabis products.

Australia’s top science agency, CSIRO, has now joined the world of medicinal cannabis research. In late February, CSIRO announced that their Botanical Extract Lab (BEL), based in Melbourne, has received a license from the Office of Drug Control to develop and manufacture medical cannabis products.

Medical cannabis is used to treat symptoms in conditions such as multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, and certain types of epilepsy, as well as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. The use of medicinal cannabis is growing in Australia, but not without controversy.

According to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2019 about 2.5 million Australians aged 14 and over had used cannabis in the previous 12 months. Among these users, about 600,000 claim to use these products for medicinal purposes but only about 4% admitted having a prescription from a doctor. Another issue is clinical evidence. So far, evidence of the efficiency of cannabis in the treatment of many health conditions varies among studies. To learn more about the controversies surrounding medicinal cannabis, see our recent feature article.

A new power player
In the heart of these turbulent waters, CSIRO has now become the first and only public research institute in the country legally able to conduct research on medicinal cannabis. The BEL is a state-of-the-art research facility, equipped with instruments for the extraction, refinement, formulation, an analysis of plants-derived products, including cannabis extracts.

The BEL started their research on cannabis in 2017, just a year after the use of medicinal cannabis became legal. Since then, the research group has gained expertise in extraction and refinement techniques, cannabinoid encapsulation for improved bioavailability and shelf-life, and the development of synthetic cannabinoids.

Now, the research group at the BEL aims to build up on that experience to improve their techniques and manufacture a new range of medical cannabis products. Additionally, the BEL aims to partner with local manufacturers to assist in the commercial-scale manufacture of medical cannabis products and to bring their products to the market. According to CSIRO’s website, the BEL will offer the following services:

  • extraction of therapeutic ingredients using a range of techniques
  • accurate analysis of a wide range of active ingredients and other components
  • manufacturing process development
  • formulation to improve bioavailability and/or shelf-life
  • evaluation of dosing technology and devices
  • the design and synthesis of synthetic cannabinoids

The move is expected to have multiple benefits, as CSIRO will improve the delivery of high quality medication to patients who require cannabis for medical reasons, and in the process, will be creating new jobs.