As the government plans to allow the cultivation and import of cannabis drugs in Korea soon, Korean bio-enterprises are actively working to occupy the related market.
Under the Narcotics Control Law, cannabis-based drugs can currently only be used for official and academic purposes in Korea. In addition, patients with rare and incurable diseases can only purchase cannabis-based drugs from Korea Orphan & Essential Drug Center (KODC).
However, according to the “100 Food and Drug Regulatory Innovation Tasks” announced by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety on August 11, the ministry plans to allow the production and import of drugs to cannabis base from 2024, in order to guarantee the right to treat rare and incurable diseases.
The ministry also plans to expand the therapeutic use of overseas clinical trial drugs containing cannabis, and will allow people to carry cannabis drugs for self-treatment into or out of the country.
As the government aims to ease regulations soon, companies have recently announced plans to develop cannabis-related drugs.
Most recently, Yuhan Care and Inventage Lab announced on Wednesday that the two companies plan to develop and commercialize a long-acting injectable drug using a medical cannabis treatment candidate.
As part of the agreement, Inventage Lab will provide its IVL-DrugFluidic, a long-acting injection development and manufacturing platform, to a medical cannabis candidate (YC-2104) owned by Yuhan Care.
However, the two companies did not reveal which area of treatment they will focus on.
Wooree Bio develops medical cannabis at its smart farm in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province. The company is currently trying to minimize the cost of cultivation and increase the cannabidiol (CBD) component by introducing a dedicated lighting system that promotes hemp production.
The company is developing technology to extract and refine pharmaceutical ingredients from high-purity hemp by 2024.
Hwail Pharmaceutical is also ramping up its medical marijuana business.
In April last year, the company acquired a 49.15% stake in Cannabis Medical, which holds patents related to the use of medical cannabis for the treatment of degenerative brain diseases.
Hwail also took a stake in CTC Bio, which successfully turned medical cannabis into a film-like formulation.
HLB Life Sciences signed a commercial agreement with Neocann Bio in April to jointly develop medical marijuana drugs.
The company has a technology platform that extracts and processes high purity hemp components through its patented microwave processing technology.
HLB Life Sciences plans to develop treatments for cancer, epilepsy and dementia by receiving an exclusive supply of cannabis extract from Neocann Bio.
Medicox decided to invest in Green Farmers, an Australian cannabis company, in August.
The investment follows Medicox signing an exclusive hemp feedstock import contract with Green Farmers in June to expand its medical cannabis business infrastructure.
However, one analyst pointed out that it will be difficult for companies to invest aggressively in the medical cannabis market at this time, as the timing and extent of medical cannabis legalization cannot yet be predicted.
“In foreign countries, CBD substances are used in various fields such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and functional health foods,” an industry watcher told Korea Biomedical Review. “However, details of the government’s plans to deregulate the sector have not been announced.”
If detailed government guidelines are released soon, companies will be able to act more quickly.