Wellnex Life has spoken of the opportunities of the over-the-counter CBD market but warned there could be a scramble for pharmacy shelf space should products start to be registered by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Under its joint venture with OneLife Botanicals, Wellnex is developing a low-dose soft-gel capsule for the treatment of pain.

It has a stated aim to be “one of the first companies to offer an over-the-counter medical cannabis product in Australia”.

During an investor webinar, chief strategy officer Zack Bozinovski ambitiously claimed the local OTC market could be worth “billions” in the next two to five years depending on the products available and how they are priced.

“Talking to pharmacies, there’s a lot of excitement and interest in the launch of S3,” he said. “The potential of the market is massive.”

He predicted an initial surge of interest that will subside before “really taking off” once confidence builds among consumers.

While forecasting that price could be a barrier “at some point in time”, he suggested consumers will be prepared to pay a “premium price for good pain relief”.

But Bozinovski warned of an impending battle to ensure product is displayed behind the counter and visible to consumers.

“The reality is, there is not much shelf space behind the counter, it’s very limited,” he told investors. “The space afforded to cannabis will be two or three branded products so our intention as part of our branding exercise is to launch our own brand… and be one of the first into the market.

“Wellnex Life has numerous relationships in the Australian market and it’s fair to say that behind the scenes we have ongoing discussions to ensure that when we do launch, our partners are aware we are going to launch.”

Bozinovski added that Wellnex may explore joint venture brands with current partners, but he ruled out manufacturing a “generic or private-label cannabis for other people”.

“Ideally for us it’s a branded play. It’s all around our brands being behind the counter. The jigsaw puzzle is coming together… to hopefully, some time in late 2023, have our S3 approval.”

Wellnex has identified soft gels as its priority dosage form with plans to deliver the maximum 150mg of CBD per day in three capsules.

“We’ll be targeting pain indications from headache to joint pain, backache to toothache,” general manager Chris Kominatos said. “We have a lot of experience in the analgesic space and have gone through S3 registration before with the regulator, and been able to successfully navigate that pathway, so this is repetition really.”

Wellnex’s previous S3 experience saw it develop a liquid gel paracetamol in partnership with GSK. Asked if it would do something similar with cannabis, Bozinovski said it was important for Wellnex to “benefit primarily at the initial launch stage” given its significant investment in the product.

“I don’t see us doing any joint venture in the first two or three years,” he said. “What’s going to be important is that we maximise our brand launches in the cannabis space before we look at supporting or manufacturing with other partners in the market. “

Cann Group has already signed an exploratory agreement with GSK regarding the sale and distribution of a potential S3 product.

Earlier in the briefing, Bozinovski told investors the OTC product will “unlock potential” for consumers by eliminating the need to obtain a prescription. However, with 82% of SAS-B approvals for schedule 8 medicine, it is clear the vast majority of existing patients will still require a prescription.

Steve has reported for a number of consumer and B2B titles over a journalism career spanning more than three decades. He is a regulator contributor to health journal, The Medical Republic, writing on...

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