Industry-Sponsored Research Week

Drexel opens medical cannabis research center and signs $15M partnership agreement

By David Schwartz
Published: March 30th, 2021

Drexel University is jumping on the boom in medical cannabis research, signing an eight-year, $15.5 million partnership agreement with Chester, PA-based Agronomed Biologics and gaining approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Health to conduct research on medical cannabis grown by the company. In conjunction with those moves, the school has just opened a new Medical Cannabis Research Center (MCRC), where it will conduct evidenced-based research on the effects of medical cannabis on patients with specific medical and behavioral conditions.

Volunteers for the studies will be recruited from Agronomed’s dispensaries, since regulations prevent Drexel from housing or dispensing cannabis itself. The company’s first dispensary (The Healing Center) is scheduled to open in Chester in April.

Outcomes from Drexel’s research will be used to inform Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program and assist the medical community at large to make better clinical decisions for its patients. The medical pot has been legal in Pennsylvania for five years, not much data exists on the efficacy of medical cannabis treatments – largely due to restrictions related to federal law, which still classifies cannabis as a schedule I drug. The Drexel-Agronomed partnership seeks to expand that data, assessing the effects of medical cannabis in treating 23 state-approved physical and psychological medical conditions including HIV, neuropathies, autism, opioid dependence and PTSD.

“Cannabis has been used to treat a variety of medical and behavioral maladies for at least 2,000 years. To date there are very few controlled scientific studies demonstrating its efficacy to treat any malady,” said Drexe’s Executive Vice Provost for Research & Innovation Aleister Saunders, PhD. “We are excited to bring modern scientific approaches to study the clinical effects of cannabis on the state-approved conditions. If our studies can demonstrate efficacy of medical cannabis, there are a large number of patients whose physical and psychological conditions can be treated with a new therapeutic approach. The potential to improve the lives of millions of citizens is very real. Therefore, we are very excited about having real and positive impacts on society.”

The MCRC will function as an overarching administrative unit charged with enacting the vision and mission of the partnership and will serve as an incubator of ideas for additional research at the university over time. The research partnership with Agronomed will include a patient registry study, a clinical core, and pilot studies.

Stephen Lankenau, PhD, Drexel’s research dean and director of the MCRC, has led multiple large-scale, NIH-funded grants focused on medical cannabis in young adults in California since 2013. He will oversee a patient registry study starting in April.

The study will follow Agronomed dispensary patients to understand their demographics, prior health concerns and prior cannabis or other drug use practices, as well as what impact using cannabis medically has on their health. Agronomed and Drexel will equally split the intellectual property ownership of any research findings.

“Our vision is to improve patient population health by balancing the scientific understanding of cannabis and its medical applications,” said Lankenau. “Our goal is to partner with Agronomed, learn from their patients and potentially figure out what types of cannabis formulations work the best for different conditions. And as we learn those facts, that could then lead to more in-depth trials and studies.”

Center co-director Wei Du, chair of the department of psychiatry, is an addiction medicine expert and will oversee the clinical trial core. “I think, as a physician and a scientist, that a leading academic institution like Drexel should play a role in terms of advancing the science behind medical cannabis, which is an area in which we need a lot of understanding now that there is a huge push for cannabis legalization in multiple states,” said Du. “I think this is the right time for us to put in the effort and resources to design clinical research and clinical trials so that we can work with our partner to rigorously study the medical benefits and also assess the potential risks of cannabis, and then present the findings to the community so physicians and the patients as well as their families can be informed based on science and evidence.”

Agronomed views the deal as much more than sponsored research. “Even though we have a sponsored arrangement with Drexel in which we are funding the University and the program, it feels like much more of a partnership because it’s so collaborative,” said Agronomed CEO Jon Cohn. “We have the dispensary side and can provide the product and the patients, and Drexel will supply the research staff and consultations. It just seemed like the perfect opportunity for us.”

Source: Drexel Now

Posted under: Uncategorized, University-Industry Engagement Week

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