Media event date: 
27 August 2019
Date published: 
28 August 2019
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

ADAM BENJAMIN:

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome.

Thank you all very much for being here today. We’re in the business of helping patients, we’re in the business of helping Aussie patients and we’re in a privileged moment in time where we now must re-introduce medical cannabis to mainstream medicine just like it used to be prior to 1937.

We are at the crossroads of good agriculture meets good health care which meets great policy.

And we thank the Federal Health Minister for being here for officially opening us. We thank the Member for Fairfax Ted O'Brien for his unflappable support, amazing, right from the start and his vision and I'd like to thank my wonderful wife for her fabulous support and my business partner Mordecai Cohen for his vision and friendship.

So again, we are here because we are helping the patients.

I would like to dedicate today to a wonderful boy, Sam Martin, who passed away in 2014 and his family and their story is the inspiration for what we're doing here today. So we now have a duty of care to help the Aussie patient and that's what we're here to do. Thank you.

TED O’BRIEN:

Adam. Thank you very much, Adam, and a big congratulations to you, to Mordecai, wonderful to see your families here today, it really is.

And also acknowledging Ed and the broader team here at Medifarm and how delighted we are to be here particularly with the Health Minister we know that the Sunshine Coast is probably the most entrepreneurial region in Australia.

And here we have a site that gets opened today that does bring together the best of Australia. We know we are world leaders when it comes to healthcare, we’re world leaders when it comes to medicines and here we are also as world leaders when it comes to agriculture.

And when you have agriculture and health come together with strong robust government policy, we have new businesses emerge using the best intellectual property that the world has to offer.

And so delighted to be here today a very big congratulations and with that, please welcome the Health Minister Greg Hunt.

GREG HUNT:

Thanks very much, thanks very much to O'Brien, to Adam, to you and your family, to Mordecai, to you and your family. [Speaks in Hebrew] So my Hebrew is not as strong as it once was but to everybody associated with Medifarm, it's a privilege to be here today because of two things.

One is you are creating something new which is about opportunity and health outcomes for patients and you're helping secondly, to contribute to the Australian economy and growth.

And just to walk around this high quality, high security facility means that you come across Australians who are involved, people from France, people from Israel, people from Germany.

So it's a multinational workforce and it's an international centre of patient care, that's the important thing.

So medicinal cannabis is something which this Government has legalised subject to the most rigorous conditions and arguably some of the most rigorous conditions in the world which is why Europe looks to Australia as a preferred supplier.

We not only legalised it but we then made sure that there was a contingency reserve, it was one of the first decisions I made on coming into this office, available for patients as production was being developed.

Beyond that, we then opened up the export market and we did that so as to ensure that there was both priority for Australian patients, that's a prerequisite of the export market, but also the capacity for Australian firms to provide health care to the world.

And interestingly, because of a confluence of good policy and good practice Australia, now has an almost unique opportunity in Europe with enormous growth potential for Australian firms at this point.

That brings me to Medifarm and Medifarm at the moment is producing about 1.2 tonnes to supply up to 3000 patients a year in Australia of product. I think the plan, Mordecai, is to grow that to about seven tonnes a year on this current site and it is a world leading facility.

And this is about helping patients who might have epilepsy, who might be suffering from cancer, post-traumatic stress or in the palliative phases of life.

And so it's about ensuring that there is the best care available. It is a highly regulated sector and we make no apologies for that. But most importantly, it's about ensuring that if the doctors determine that the medicine should be available, it can be available and to have a pioneer such as Medifarm, they have three licences all up in Australia.

We've now issued, the latest advice I have, 81 licences of just over 12,000 patients and scripts have been issued, so patients benefiting from over 12,000 scripts and Medifarm has three of the 81 licences.

And that's an immensely important step forward. So it takes a lot of courage to invest, to create, and to bring it all together, but it looks as if what we're going to see is better outcomes for Australian patients in the most regulated and safe environment that we could possibly establish.

And that's a tremendous outcome for the Sunshine Coast, for Queensland, for Australia, but above all else, for the patients. So I am delighted to officially declare open Medifarm’s Queensland operations.

Happy to take any questions either on Medifarm or other issues after that.

JOURNALIST:
So Minister there was actually …

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] one of the holdups, there isn’t actually medicine coming out of this plant yet. I understand the holdup is some regulatory paperwork at a federal level. Why can't you hasten things up a bit?

GREG HUNT:
So the Office of Drug Control has responsibility for that, and they are very, very assiduous. And one of the things that everybody would want is for us to make sure that we are operating in an efficient way, but in a safe way.

We introduced a one-stop shop with the state's, New South Wales was first and Queensland was a little bit slower than some of the other states, and that is one of the issues. But we now have the states and territories on board.

JOURNALIST:
So when will patients actually have these products in their hands? The end of last year we were told that it would be ready in the first quarter of this year. How far off are patients from having that?

ADAM BENJAMIN:

If I may add to that, and I believe Australia's not only got the right legislation here, but the best legislation and the best quality. So from our perspective, you asked when will our product be available.

We’ve already completed to harvests, so two growth cycles of the four- the five that can go on in a year.

Very important if we are here to help the Aussie patient that we have a continuity of supply. We must build up our reserves, which we've done.

We didn't take the media through today, but we have a huge amount that we're building up so that as we come to market, it's very important that that supply chain is continuous and the quality is continuous.

JOURNALIST:

So is that this year? Patients having those products?

ADAM BENJAMIN:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

GREG HUNT:
So there you go. So that's a business decision. I think a sensible one in terms of managing their flows of they have patient continuity.

JOURNALIST:
So Minister related to that, there was some confusion about what today sort of represents. There was the whether it's an Australian first, a Queensland first. What’s today?

GREG HUNT:
So today is the opening of Medifarm, and Medifarm is one of the leading providers in Australia.

And as I said, we've worked very hard. We've produced 81 licences for either production, manufacture, or research, and Medifarm is right at the national forefront. But what is today? It is the official opening of Medifarm.

JOURNALIST:
Is Medifarm, this facility, is this the first facility in Australia or Queensland to be producing medicinal cannabis? Or where do we stand with that?

GREG HUNT:
So where we're at the moment is you've got a number of facilities around the country that are in different stages of production that have been fully licensed. So it's up to each of those to indicate their own. But we have fulfilled over 12,500 prescriptions in Australia.

JOURNALIST:

And these products…

JOURNALIST:

Using Australian product or is that imported product?

GREG HUNT:

So what we did was we opened the market for the import, and there is no barrier now to Australian product, and that will be determined by each supply with the TGA.  

JOURNALIST:

Is there anyone using an Australian product yet?

GREG HUNT:
So we're ready to roll. So when would you say is your first Australian product?

ADAM BENJAMIN:

Ours will be ready before the end of the year. If I can add to your question, sorry. In terms of imported product, obviously we are a proud, Australian local company.

We are not currently importing products, but I do applaud the Government for allowing a stop-gap measure. We know there are hundreds of thousands of Aussie patients in need, and to help that stop-gap measure before local product becomes available, before Medifarm helps Aussie patients before the end of this year, that stop-gap measure has to come from overseas.

So we'll be proud to contribute as soon as we can.

JOURNALIST:

So when medicines start coming out of this facility, that will be the first Australian produced medicinal cannabis going to patients, is that?

ADAM BENJAMIN:

There are other facilities. I don't know about the competitors out there. I know that Medifarm was the first fully licensed, so cultivation and manufacturing and research licensed company in Australia. Yes, we are a proud fore-frontrunner.

As for the other 81 licences or the other 78 licences, good on them. People often ask, don't you find this competitive? If you've got to win the race to help the Aussie patient, what an amazing race.

JOURNALIST:
These products can now be exported internationally as well, is that correct? Once they're ready?

GREG HUNT:

So we've opened up the export pathway and then it's up to each individual firm. And we already have Australian firms that have export licenses.

JOURNALIST:
Minister, you might be in a better position to answer that question. In terms of are there- is there Australian produced medicinal cannabis in the market and going to patients currently?

GREG HUNT:

My expectation is that the first of that will occur within the coming months.

JOURNALIST:

And that will be from this facility?

GREG HUNT:

Well it'll be an interesting- it will be a race between them. I know that there's healthy competition to be the first. I would say Medifarm is very well placed to be that first.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, now that a lot of these farms are starting to come online, the product will soon be available. One of the main complaints from prescribing doctors is that the paperwork is simply too complicated, and many are saying they just don't want to do it.

Is the Government going to look at making that bit a bit easier for doctors?

GREG HUNT:

I think that was a legitimate complaint which is why we moved to establish one-stop shop agreements with the states and territories. Queensland is part of that. New South Wales was the first.

We now have a turnaround time of less than 48 hours between the prescription and the fulfilment.

JOURNALIST:

And how expensive is it for patients?

GREG HUNT:

It will depend for each patient. I'll let Adam talk about the price for his own product.

ADAM BENJAMIN:

Sure. Look that's a wonderful lead in. However due to the TGA, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which is Australians quality control of medicine, which happens to be a world leader right up there with FDA, we do not advertise our product.

So price and efficacy is left up to the doctor as it should be. We all at some point in time have been to a doctor and it’s their clinical judgment that counts. I guess what we always remember is the power is with the patient in this industry because it's their health that counts most.

JOURNALIST:

Adam, you talked there about the patients. People will be watching this thinking that I perhaps may have a- something that could be treated. How would a patient go about talking to their GP, about access to this kind of medicine?

ADAM BENJAMIN:

So, exactly as you say, talk to your GP. Although this is a bit of a James Bond industry, if you strip away the words medical cannabis and you say schedule 8 prescription medicine, most of us know you go to your doctor.

If you're the right patient, you get the right product. It's dispensed through a secure pharmacy. If your doctor needs more information, of course please visit Medifarm and we're happy to assist.

JOURNALIST:

Minister Hunt just on another matter if we could. There are revelations today that a Queensland kidney patient missed out on a transplant because of sterilisation malfunctions at one of Brisbane's biggest public hospitals.

Are you happy with how the Queensland Health system is running?

GREG HUNT:

I would say this, that we have increased funding by 40 per cent since the Palaszczuk Government came in to Queensland hospitals they have increased funding by 12 per cent.

I will respectfully urge them to match the growth that we have done and there’s also an offer, over $7.5 billion dollars to assist Queensland with their hospitals through the National Hospital Reform Agreement.

So that funding is there, that's available and we would respectfully urge them to take up that opportunity. In terms of their own safety and quality, they must, the Queensland Government must inquire into how a case such as this was allowed to occur.

JOURNALIST:

I mean is it acceptable for a patient to miss out because of a hospital bungle?

GREG HUNT:

It is clearly unacceptable for a patient to have substandard care or no care on the basis of maladministration.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, I understand the doctors, GPs are going to be lobbying you to try and be allowed to run pharmacies in the latest between GPs and pharmacies. Would you support doctors being allowed to run pharmacies in the same way that pharmacies are allowed to administer vaccinations?

GREG HUNT:

So we have a very, very clear set of rules regarding pharmacy ownership which follows in fact the recent reviews and we, through a bipartisan approach, reaffirmed those rules in the Parliament in the course of the last two years.

So we've only just re-legislated in this space and there are no plans to change that.

JOURNALIST:

Adam, it was mentioned inside that those plants that you- that we were standing in front of would help two patients per year. How far off are they from being able to be sent away and sold to the [inaudible]?

ADAM BENJAMIN:

Sure, so yes. In terms of the statistics, every plant that we saw today will produce enough medicine for two Aussie patients for a year's supply. As mentioned before we've done two harvests. We have a significant volume in the vault. What you see today is a turnkey solution.

We are fully licensed to go from plant to patient with those medicines from this facility and we plan to do that before the end of this year.

JOURNALIST:

Those ones though, how far off are they that we just saw?

ADAM BENJAMIN:

Those plants?

JOURNALIST:

Yeah.

ADAM BENJAMIN:

Those plants will probably have another 40 days’ growth.

JOURNALIST:

And the bottling process and everything like that, is that all, when you say you’ve got stockpiles, that's all ready to go?

ADAM BENJAMIN:

Yes, it is. So the harvests that occur are in the vault. But look we're blessed, we're blessed to live in Australia. We have wonderful climate and this is the merging of good agriculture meeting good healthcare.

JOURNALIST:

And Adam just quickly, your medicines, what are the types of ailments that your product will treated?

ADAM BENJAMIN:

Perhaps if I can just quickly talk about our exclusivity with the Israeli partnership, Tikkun Olam, Tikkun Olam being the global pioneers important for us to help Aussies as quickly as possible.

They have purpose bred genetics, purpose bred genetics for medical conditions such as the Minister mentioned; cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, palliative care, improving the quality of life, spasticity such as multiple sclerosis.

So without going on to the advertising side of things, very important to have your clinical trials obviously based on products. Most important to have your clinical trials based on the genetics of your plants.

These plants are powerful and they're here to help our patients.

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