Jammu based CSIR-IIIM leads the way on R&D of Cannabis based medicine

The Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine is the India's first national institute to not only initiate research into the Cannabis for drug development but also act as a catalyst for India's top S&T agencies that will soon join hands for pushing R&D of bio-based molecules

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New Delhi: With an active support from Jammu and Kashmir government, the first in the country to do so, the Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine is currently conducting the research into Cannabis to yield the potential medicinal products.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s Jammu based institute is currently doing the pre-clinical studies on the select varieties of the Cannabis plants cultivated on the campus. The institute has primary focus of research on drug discovery from natural products (medicinal plants and microbial species) on disease areas such as oncology, infections, sickle cell anemia and others.

We have been often approached by individuals, doctors, companies etc for information on Cannabis to manage pain in cancer and epilepsy patients, following which we sought permission from the government. We were granted legal license to grow cannabis about two years ago from J&K government. State has given us one acre of land for the purpose as well,” revealed Dr Ram Vishwakarma, Director, CSIR-IIIM Jammu during an interaction with the BioVoice on the sidelines of an event at Delhi.

“We are currently are doing pre-clinical development on animals. Once we complete the same, we will approach the Drug Controller General of India on the further development process,” Dr Vishwakarma explained further adding, “We need to select the varieties of plants which are fit for the medicine. As you know, there are two compounds (phytocannabinoids) in the cannabis. The harmful, habit forming properties causing compound is called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and the other one with therapeutic properties is called CBD (cannabidiol). There are plants which produce low quantity of THC and high quantity of CBD. That requires more plant breeding efforts and plant biology. We have done the selection and now we have something that is desirable for cultivation. Selected varieties of cannabis for desirable medicine are being cultivated. Secondly we need the chemistry manufacturing protocols and these will be developed too.”

If we look at the international level, the CBD-rich phytocannabinoids have undergone phase-II and phase-III clinical trials in the United States, Europe and Israel for cancer pain, epilepsy, glioma (a type of brain tumour), type-II diabetes and schizophrenia. This led to the regulatory and marketing approval of cannabis-derived drugs for treating pain, multiple sclerosis, appetite loss in AIDS patients and nausea in chemotherapy.

“While we are doing plant biology and pre-clinical work, we expect to take it to the next stage between 1-2 years,” says Dr Vishwakarma who also reveals about the plan to set up an innovation center at IIIM-Jammu. “This will be created by charity funding by some companies like Ultra International and others.”

DBT, ICMR and CSIR coming together?

The IIIM is also the reason for the big scientific agencies to join hands for promoting research and development of bio-based molecules.

As per Dr Vishwakarma, an agreement between the Department of Biotechnology, (DBT) Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is on the anvil. “The signing of agreement that will happen soon for the research on several molecules including that of Cannabis, involves the drug discovery work that will be spearheaded only by the IIIM, Jammu.

Under the joint initiative, while the DBT will be funding the IND (investigational new drug) enabling studies, the ICMR will bring clinical expertise. The CSIR-IIIM will be carrying out exclusive research.

“I can say this is a gala agreement that we are doing where premier organizations of the country are joining hands,” says Dr Vishwakarma, who further added on being asked about the budget, “Such research involves crores of rupees and we will be looking at both government as well as industry participation.