Little Green Pharma is gearing up to take on Europe while remaining dedicated to its Australian patient base. We spoke with Managing Director Fleta Solomon to find out more.
Little Green Pharma (LGP) is an unlisted cannabis company based in Western Australia.
The company initially made a big splash in April 2017, when it was granted one of the few Medical Cannabis Cultivation licenses in Australia.
Since then, Little Green Pharma has become the first and currently only medicinal cannabis company in Australia to produce locally-cultivated medicinal-grade cannabis oil products. Building on this established position in Australia, they are now expanding operations overseas, with a focus on Europe including Germany and the UK.
To learn more about this exciting company, The Green Fund sat down with the Managing Director of Little Green Pharma, Fleta Solomon, for an exclusive interview.
Fleta Solomon is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (GAICD) with a background in exercise and health science, and was appointed to the role of LGP Managing Director on 29 May 2017.
She has 17 years' worth of experience in the corporate and consumer health market, and also established, expanded and sold one of Australia's largest workplace health service providers over a ten-year period.
Solomon would subsequently become involved with several start-ups, including a digital health engagement provider and a water-treatment technology company, before eventually finding her way to Little Green Pharma in 2016.
"And at that time, medical cannabis had just become legal in Australia."
"So, it was really perfect timing," Solomon said.
Navigating the Australian regulatory system and managing its operations speedily within these guidelines is key to their success.
However, improving people's lives is also a big part of Little Green Pharma's core business philosophy—which is reflected in the company's strategic decisions, ethos, and internal culture—as they firmly believe that "doing the right thing and going about it in the right way" will result in a high return for investors.
Solomon herself received another push to enter the industry after meeting with a young girl named Claire, who was suffering from up to 70 seizures every day.
"From that moment that we recognized that we could help thousands of people across the globe. Not only through cannabinoid medicines, but in the way that cannabinoids could actually be delivered into the human body. And that's when Little Green Pharma was born."
– Managing Director of LGP, Fleta Solomon
Blazing a Trail
Little Green Pharma was one of the first companies to break into the nascent Australian cannabis industry, and by April 2017 they had already been granted the third license in Australia to cultivate and produce medicinal marijuana. However, at that time there were still no patients in Australia that had been prescribed cannabis yet.
This left LGP in an interesting position, as the company had to "look at the opportunity and say, how do we do this?"
"How do we build our facility? And what are we going to do, what is our strategic model? We also recognized early on, that producing a pharmaceutical grade medicine for patients was not just as simple as bottling a plant," Solomon said.
"We recognized that many licenses would be required to undertake such activities, and also a certain skillset. We're talking about the TGA, we're talking about Australian patients and the procedures and the processes that you need to go through, are very advanced."
"So we established an exclusive relationship with one of Australia's few opiate manufacturers, not only for speed to market purposes, but to ensure Little Green Pharma was ultimately producing the highest quality medicine that we possibly could for patient benefit and at the same time meeting requirements put in place by the Federal medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)
According to Solomon, the company's decision to forge a strong relationship with its GMP manufacturer—along with eschewing a huge production facility in favour of a lower-cost 2,000 square meter site—helped to expedite its position in the market, making LGP one of the leading figures in the Australian cannabis industry.
And it's a hard point to argue, as Little Green Pharma claims that it is still the only cannabis company in Australia producing a final product cannabinoid-based medicine that's actually being used by patients. Solomon says that the last two years have been a huge learning curve for the company, as it has had to secure over 20 different licenses and permits to reach its current market position.
"Moving forward in the next few years, the vision of the company is to match not only pharmacogenomics and how DNA reacts to individual cannabinoids, but also to marry that with these unique delivery systems to supply personalized medications for our patients."
– Managing Director of LGP, Fleta Solomon
Luckily, this hard work is starting to show, as Little Green Pharma has now accrued approximately 1,000 Australian patients, and is "ready to export our cannabinoid medicines into other jurisdictions, which actually allow for the importation of medicinal cannabis".
As a result of their success with medicinal cannabis, the company has also started to branch out into other areas, with Solomon confirming that LGP is concurrently exploring a number of drug delivery systems.
"And a couple of these novel technologies, include our own patented liposomal delivery technology. These formulations are anticipated to result in a micro dose more readily absorbed into the body. This would mean greater bioavailability, and hopefully results in lower operational costs which we can pass onto to patients to further stimulate product demand," she said.
"This would be a great result for both our client bases; the investors that want to see ROI—and of course the patients that want to see lower cost in their product, so that's exciting. The other exciting delivery methodology that we're looking at is a joint venture with OBJ, to look at how cannabinoids can be delivered through a transdermal molecular delivery in the form of a patch."
"And that's going to be exciting, because it will allow a slow release of the active ingredients into the body and will assist in certain conditions such as pain, where slow release is required over time. So, there's a real need for this type of option for our doctors and for our patients to be able to benefit from."
The company is now in the process of expanding—both locally in Australia and overseas—while also doing it for "economies of scale", by pursuing larger facilities that lower the cost of their medicine.
This is particularly important for LGP, as one its ongoing goals is to achieve the lowest cost possible "particularly for Australian patients", so that they can benefit as well as investors.
According to Solomon, Little Green Pharma has an obligation to supply the Australian market before it even considerers exporting product overseas. As a result, the company export activities will be limited purely to excess product for the foreseeable future.
"So, in the near term, we will continue to focus on cannabis cultivation and strengthening our manufacturing capabilities for domestic use and export opportunities. And of course, our longer-term future will focus on optimizing those drug delivery technologies."
One of Little Green Pharma key goals has been to increase its production capacity. The company is currently capable of producing between 4,000 and 5,000 bottles of cannabis-based medicine per harvest, which equates to "roughly 18,000 bottles" per year.
However, LGP isn't going to stop there, and is also currently expanding its top secret south-western WA cultivation facilities, with the aim of producing approximately 100,000 bottles per year.
Little Green Pharma's management believes that in six months—pending permit variations from the Office of Drug Control—the expanded facility will be operational.
"So, call it another nine months from now, we will be starting to reap the benefits of that particular volume. Conservatively, I will say that we will have 20,000 patients in the next year. And if you look just last month alone, the numbers just came out yesterday, there's more than 2,000 patients for the last month," Solomon said.
"In terms of surplus supply, it will never be a problem, at least in the next four or five years. And the reason being there is just such a worldwide shortage of high-quality medicinal cannabis. Which is why we have managed to secure a number of distribution agreements throughout the world.
"We have the capability to deliver and to export and have our product distributed into certain jurisdictions. And really to fulfil that, we're looking for volume. Hence, why we're building out our expansion cultivation project at the moment. Then from there, we'll look further and beyond and say, do we look at other cultivation licenses in other jurisdictions?
According to Solomon, the company's current facilities are also GMP certified, as LGP recognised early on that partnering with a high-quality manufacturer would be of crucial importance. As a result, they elected to go with an existing opiate manufacturer who already had a narcotics license, making it significantly easier for the company to obtain a permit for medicinal cannabis and manufacturing license.
This has put Little Green Pharma in a unique position, as it is "one of only a handful of companies across the globe" who are capable of exporting cannabis to Europe. Thanks to this competitive advantage, LGP is now in a position to go toe-to-toe with some of the Canadian heavyweights who are still "years away from actually getting that approval or accreditation".
In the meantime, the company plans to capitalise on this opportunity to expand into Europe, with the aim of entrenching itself in the market before its international competitors can even get a foot in the door.
"We are now in that position, where all of our processes have been proven. We've got our export licenses, we've got distribution agreements with import and wholesalers overseas. We're ready now to distribute our products into Europe, and to gain not only market share, but also have our brand, an Australian, high quality Australian grower brand throughout Europe."
– Managing Director of LGP, Fleta Solomon
One of the company's first major targets in the European market will be the UK, despite its tightly managed regulatory environment. While this may present a challenge, LGP should be able to comfortably meet the requirements, as they are relatively similar to regulations in place in Australia.
Despite the fact that "the demand is not quite there yet", Little Green Pharma is confident that this will increase substantially within the next few years, with Fleta Solomon describing the UK as "a huge focus for us".
Germany is also going to be a key market for LGP going forward, as it is "a hotspot for all medical cannabis companies that are able to export within an EU GMP".
Putting Patients First
Little Green Pharma have been fairly emphatic that they don't "want to be big pharma", and will always take an approach that puts patients first.
However, thanks to its GMP compliant manufacturing facilities—and the timely receival of licenses from the Office of Drug Control—LGP is now in a unique position to leverage its first-mover advantage to take on the European market.
At the same time, the company is also remaining firm in its dedication to servicing the needs of the Australian cannabis market with affordable cannabinoid medicine.
"We wanted to differentiate ourselves a couple of ways. One, we didn't want to be big pharma, who are literally adding other ingredients and having this synthetic drug."
"Also, we wanted to be user-friendly. We wanted the image that we are very natural, we're human. You can ring us, and we'll answer the phone and speak to you."
"We wanted that to resonate through to the end consumers, which were at the time, our WA patients in Australia. We wanted to give the feeling that we were in it for the real deal, that we weren't big pharma, that we were genuine, family oriented," Solomon said.
For now, only time will tell if the company's patient-centric approach to the medicinal cannabis industry will prove successful in the long-term. Luckily, Little Green Pharma has a better chance than most of cracking the market.