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We caught up with Chris Ashton, Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Pharmacist at LYPHE GROUP, the UK leader in the reliable and seamless supply of medical cannabis care and medicine.
The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with great potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.
Chris Ashton: I’m Chris Ashton, Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Pharmacist for LYPHE (pronounced like ‘life’) Group. We are a Medical Cannabis company which consists of four entities: The Medical Cannabis Clinics, The Academy of Medical Cannabis, Astral Health (our import division) and Dispensary Green (our pharmacy). We are an end-to-end solution, bringing medical cannabis access to patients. We were established in late 2018, with the market really starting to open up in the last 8 to 9 months with patient numbers starting to grow exponentially.
What makes LYPHE unique is that we are fully independent, we are product agnostic, so our clinicians prescribe any product which is available and suitable for the patient. This ensures that the patient receives a product based on a clinical decision, not a commercial one. We are fiercely defensive of our doctor’s independence and ability to make the right decision for the patient. Right now, for us, it is about access, affordability and sustainability.
Brief details on how it works, for those who are interested: Medical cannabis can only be prescribed by a specialist, with the majority of prescriptions being written by private clinics as the NHS has not yet embraced medicinal cannabis.
Chris Ashton: I joined LYPHE about six months after the group was formed, initially as a consultant because of my background. The group was formed because an opportunity was identified, when medicinal cannabis was getting legalised, to help patients get access to that medication. The group was originally known as ‘European Cannabis Holdings’, and then the company split into two: LYPHE Group, which is the medical cannabis side and NOBL which manages events and Cannabis data – but they are now two separate entities.
Chris Ashton: We have definitely had challenges because Medicinal Cannabis is still stigmatised. Medicinal Cannabis is a niche area, is highly regulated, and the industry is starting from scratch. Because its brand new, there are no experts to provide guidance on building a company in this field. Finding people has been hard, as specific relevant experience is very limited, but I believe we have recruited the best people within this field in the UK. Working with the regulators has been key to building a successful business model that is suitable for scaling.
We are also working in an end of line space, so we have patients who are terminally ill or severely ill, and some patients may be cognitively impaired, so we have the challenge of managing expectations – we also have the challenge of managing an ever-changing supply chain that can be unreliable at times.
Chris Ashton: We saw that medicinal Cannabis was being legalised in the UK but that is only one step towards patients gaining access to it, so we created this ecosystem to solve the problems of prescription access. Having all the steps inhouse means we can control the quality, the risk, the affordability and the sustainability.
As I am also Chief pharmacist at LYPHE Group, I am fortunate enough to see the result of all the hard work, I am seeing patients whose lives have changed because of medical cannabis. And as a pharmacist I am regulated, so I have to make sure that it is suitable and safe for each patient, therefore patient outcomes are always at the forefront. We surveyed 50 children who are receiving Medical Cannabis, 49 of which had seen a reduction in their epileptic fits, only 1 did not find an improvement, and this is after these patients may have tried years-worth of licenced medications. And it is not just for children, for example, we treat a musician who couldn’t play the drums any more because of the pain, who is now back on tour.
As a team, we are all patient focussed and I firmly believe that is why we have succeeded as a business. Alongside our doctors and chief medical officers, a lot of our leads within the business are healthcare professionals, which has maintained our patient-centred approach.
Chris Ashton: I think the fact we are working in a new industry, building from scratch, is a barrier because there is no clear path to success. The regulations* and rules are the framework, but everything else must be figured out. There isn’t any cohesions yet among the industry to standardise practices, so there is no code of conduct, which represents a challenge for everybody involved. The changeable supply chain is also a barrier.
*The regulators in the UK, whilst they can often be seen as obstructive by some, have been terrific for us during this process. They have worked really well to try and navigate an issue that they didn’t know a lot about and they have worked with all operators in the space to try and build a framework and a system that works for patients.
Medicinal Cannabis is an unlicenced medicine, and also a controlled drug, so it is regulated in the UK to ensure it is medical standard and controllable.
Chris Ashton: I think proof of concept is first and foremost one of the things you have to prioritise. Start small and build up until you have enough numbers for it to be viable, but ensure you maintain flexibility to be able to change with the industry. Also, networking has been key for us. We know everybody in the industry, so it’s been important for us to choose the right partnerships and networks and align with those who share the same goals and ethics.
We are in a unique space as this is an emerging market here, which has proven potential with the success of countries such as Canada, the US and Australia, so a lot of interest has come as a result of the learning from other markets.