Jamaican women first in line for new ganja treatment of breast cancer

A news report out of London, England and Toronto, Canada indicates that Jamaican women are likely first in line to benefit from new discoveries that found medical cannabis formulations are 100 per cent effective in killing breast cancer (HER2+) cells.

The long sought after cure for breast cancer could come from a combination of medical cannabis formulations developed by Apollon Jamaica and medicinal mushroom formulations developed by AI Pharmaceuticals Jamaica.

The news was heralded by two international pharmaceutical companies with subsidiaries in Jamaica – United Kingdom-based Apollon Formularies and Aion Therapeutic, based in British Columbia, Canada, according to PRNewswire.

Jamaica’s Paul Burke, the prominent People’s National Party (PNP) stalwart, is chairman of Apollon Jamaica and CEO is American physician Dr Stephen Barnhill who is trained in laboratory medicine and certified by the American Board of Bioanalysis.

Barnhill owns 49 per cent of the shares. Under Jamaica’s Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA), the company must be majority owned by Jamaicans, giving Burke and nine other local investors a 51 per cent stake.

“The testing results showed that Apollon Jamaica’s medical cannabis formulations were particularly effective in killing living HER2+ cancer cells directly, while Aion’s medicinal mushroom formulations were most effective in stimulating the immune system’s T-cell production to attack and kill HER2+ cancer cells,” the announcement said.

“When the two formulations were combined, nearly 100 per cent of HER2+ breast cancer cells in 3D cell cultures were killed through the three different pathways: direct cell cytotoxicity, immune stimulated T-cell cytotoxicity, and macrophage-induced phagocytosis,” PRNewswire reported.

HER2-positive constitutes approximately 20 per cent of all breast cancers.

The testing was performed by BIOENSIS, an independent, pre-clinical, predictive pharmaceutical testing laboratory. The medical cannabis formulations were developed by Apollon’s affiliate, Apollon Formularies Jamaica and the medicinal mushroom formulations were developed by AI Pharmaceuticals Jamaica, a subsidiary of Aion.

Dr Barnhill, who operates out of West End Road, Negril in Westmoreland said cannabinoids had been seen to “exert ‘antitumour’ effects by a number of different means, including killing cancer cells directly, as well as inhibiting transformed cell growth and tumour metastasis”.

“Apollon Jamaica, using results from its proprietary, artificial intelligence-based analysis on strain genetics, has cultivated and processed certain of its proprietary medical cannabis products with cancer treatment expressly in mind,” Barnhill was quoted as saying.

“We are excited that our formulations have been validated via independent laboratory testing to kill HER2+ breast cancer cells in 3D cell culture through direct cytotoxicity,” he added.

Barnhill said that once the relevant licences were approved by the Jamaican Government, Apollon intended to have Jamaican physicians begin treating patients who have HER2+ breast cancer in Jamaica, “where each company’s formulations can be available by physician prescription”.

“This will allow us to corroborate these exciting laboratory results by observing the results of treatment in human patients,” said Dr Barnhill.

Worldwide, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women and accounts for the most cancer-related deaths. In 2019 the breast cancer market totalled over US$20 billion, with 68 per cent of therapies sold targeting HER2 or CDK4/6, PRNewswire said.

Burke described the test results and the plan to begin treatments in Jamaica as “very exciting developments”, noting that traditional chemotherapy, radiation and cancer surgery treatment protocols were expensive and required a great deal of infrastructure.

“As a result, many women in Jamaica and worldwide have gone without, or with only limited, treatment. The combined formulations of Apollon and Aion are expected to be comparatively inexpensive, providing an opportunity for all women to have their breast cancer treated,” said Burke.

“I look forward to collaborating with Aion with regard to our shared vision to bring these formulations to market as quickly as possible and in a manner that allows all Jamaican women with HER2+ breast cancer, as well as women travelling from international locations to Jamaica as medical tourists for our treatment, to have access to quality care.”

The companies next expect to negotiate a joint licence agreement involving their formulations and intellectual property whereby AI Pharmaceuticals may exclusively use Apollon Jamaica’s medical cannabis formulations in their combined product lines in the US and Canada, and Apollon may exclusively use certain of Aion’s medicinal mushroom products in their combined product lines in Europe and Jamaica, where legal.

Apollon Jamaica started operations in Jamaica in 2019 with an investment of more than US$4 million, and has a cannabis oil-processing facility, a dispensary, consultation rooms, guest rooms and a built-in saltwater pool.

Jamaica’s Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Audley Shaw appears to be solidly in Apollon’s corner, having welcomed discussions taking place between the CLA and the Pharmacy Council of Jamaica with the objective of getting locally produced cannabis-based medicines in local pharmacies.

“It is ironic that we are importing things like hemp and selling it in our pharmacies and we don’t have hemp from Jamaica being sold in our pharmacies. That can’t continue,” he bemoaned last week in his sectoral presentation.

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