Scott Maguire initially declined involvement in the cannabis health and wellbeing sector; but now, thanks in part to his family’s beloved dog, he heads up one of its fastest-growing companies.
Bozy, a nine-month-old King Charles Spaniel puppy, was diagnosed with stage 5 liver cancer and given at best two weeks to live.
This prompted Scott’s research into what could possibly increase his chances of survival, leading him to discover cannabis as a credible option.
Scott says: “The vet refused to put the dog on strong anti-cancer medication since he was so weak that he would die and we were advised to put him to sleep, but I have two young sons who were distraught and wanted Bozy to come home.
“He had not eaten for ten days and was seriously ill. I was willing to try anything. I had read about the benefits of cannabis and knew a ski instructor who smoked marijuana, so I got some from him.
“I breathed some of the smoke into Bozy’s muzzle and within minutes he attacked a hamburger,” adds Scott, whose background is in life science investment banking.
“We did this twice a day for two weeks and Bozy survived, he was well enough to travel back to our home in London from Switzerland, where we had been at the time.
“Bozy is still alive today. Cannabis saved his life and steroids then sustained his life, but this for me was evidence of what cannabis could do.”
Incidentally, a short time earlier, Scott had been approached by headhunters looking for a CEO for a cannabis startup.
“I said I had no interest in that, I’m from a biopharmaceutical background, that wasn’t for me. But I think the link between this and what happened to Bozy was written in the stars, as suddenly this was an industry I wanted to be part of, I had to be part of.”
His U-turn paid off. London-based Cannaray is now one of the biggest and fastest-growing businesses of its kind in Europe, having only been established 18 months ago.
It recently raised £7.8m in a Series A funding round to help support its ambitions in the medical cannabis and CBD markets.
It recently acquired Therismos, a UK company with the licences to import, handle, and distribute controlled drugs in the UK as well as across Europe, Norway, Switzerland, and Iceland.
Cannaray recently fulfilled its first UK patient prescription which has reportedly transformed the life of Jorja Emerson, a three-year-old British girl with severe epilepsy.
Her father Robin has become Cannaray’s director of patient support. He will work with Cannaray patients and families to provide support and offer first-hand insight to those seeking prescriptions or undergoing treatment.
Scott says: “Jorja was on a horrible drug, her family took her to the US to Boston for treatment but then we were able to help her in the UK. She has a high CBD, low TDC concentration and it has worked. She has gone from being written off to being able to attend school. That is evidence right there that cannabis works.
“That case is very personal to me, as is the case of Bozy, and my wife has also benefitted from using cannabis for pain relief. She had shoulder surgery and was on opioids, but they caused her severe nausea.
“They weren’t working, she couldn’t sleep and was in so much pain. I had a medical cannabis sample from California and she tried that. She slept through the night that same night.”
While he was initially sceptical about medicinal cannabis, Scott has seen for himself a number of real-life examples of its power to change, and potentially save, lives.
But huge challenges remain for many families in accessing it – a situation Scott says Cannaray is committed to changing. The major barrier, he believes, is the current stance of UK medical authorities.
“I believe the biggest hurdle in the UK currently is the approach of the General Medical Council, which is telling members to try every clinically-trialled product before considering cannabis.
“There needs to be more flexibility and power put into the hands of the specialists and GPs. They need to have the ability to prescribe, like they have in Germany. This is a real barrier. As long as these specialists worry about losing their licences and the repercussions they may face from the GMC, we cannot move forward.
“There needs to be fundamental change. Although medical cannabis became legal in November 2018, there are still less than 200 patients who have had it, whereas in Germany there have been over 100,000 prescriptions so far.”
Scott remains hopeful that change will come in the UK eventually, in the long term at least.
“There is no doubt in my mind that within ten years, the use of cannabis in medical treatment will be widely adopted, but the situation now remains difficult. Although cannabis has been used for thousands of years in China, Egypt, the Netherlands, the fact it was made illegal in the 1960s remains a huge factor. There is stigma and overhang from that and from the approach of the Nixon administration.
“Another big challenge is the strong lobbying power of the biopharma industry, which wants to protect its franchises. [Members] are very nervous at these franchises being challenged and don’t want to lose their power.
“But when the use of cannabis and CBD does become a mainstream therapy, it is going to have a huge impact on the lives, and the quality of life, of people with conditions like MS, PTSD, Tourette’s, chronic pain, and many other serious conditions. It has such a huge positive impact on these people, it helps them to get through the day and to live their lives.
“Of course there is a lot of work to be done, it’s not a perfect industry yet and there is more clinical evidence needed from around the world and more research to be done.
“There are still questions around dosing, as cannabis is based on genetics rather than size and weight, and everyone reacts differently to it, but there is great work being done. We have a scientific advisory board which I believe is leading the industry and we are committed to being at the forefront of innovation and in helping the full potential of cannabis to be understood.”
Cannaray is investing significantly in research to support the development of the use of medical cannabis in the UK, with a joint venture set to be agreed with a US-based cannabis research organisation, and a presence in Germany being developed.
It is also has key opinion leaders covering the five areas for medical cannabis use in the UK on its advisory board; MS, chemo-induced nausea and vomiting, epilepsy, chronic pain and Tourette’s.
Its focus on research, alongside the company’s commitment to working with families, is a powerful combination, Scott believes.
“Coming from the life sciences industry, I find research much more exciting than profits. This is why I came into this business, because I had seen for myself that cannabis works. We want to create the research and lead the research.
“The fulfilment of our first UK prescription for Jorja puts us on the map as a business and shows we are committed to delivering on our ambitions to change the situation. There are patients in need of better therapy than what they’re currently being given access to, and we are committed to delivering the evidence through research to helping to open up access to medical cannabis.”
Patient success stories will be especially influential in changing the UK picture, he says.
“I know from my career previously and dealing with patient advocacy that there is no voice stronger or more motivated than a parent whose child is suffering from illness. That is why it was so important for us [to] work with Robin Emerson.
“He will be working with patient advocacy groups to help unlock access to cannabis and put pressure on the Government and medical industry, helping to show there are patients in desperate need of cannabis now.
“The shared experiences of his family and other families are so powerful. This is something that cannot wait and we will do all we can to bring about change. We will continue to drive for broader and continuous cannabis access for patients.”