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The New South Wales (NSW) state government announced on Tuesday, Oct. 27, it would begin trials of cannabis-based medicines for children with severe epilepsy starting next year, subject to ethical approval.

Australian state government announces medicinal cannabis trial

In a statement released by NSW's Premier, Mike Baird, the government says it will partner with a British-based pharmaceutical company, GW Pharmaceuticals, to facilitate the trial with researchers in the Sydney Children's Hospital Network.

"This confirms NSW’s position as a world leader on medicinal cannabis and demonstrates the determination of our Government to ensure we secure these groundbreaking trials," Baird said. "Our research and development is driven by compassion for those suffering so we hope that these initiatives will bring relief to many children and their loved ones."

The announcement outlines a commitment of A$3.5 million dollars (US$4.8 million) to research cannabis-based medicinal products for help with treating drug-resistant epilepsy.

The main focus will be on cannabinoid cannibidivarin (CBDV), a molecule in the cannabis plant that has shown promising results as an anti-convulsant. It does not produce psychoactive effects and has already been tested in adults.

“The phase 1 testing was carried out in healthy adults with no significant side effects, and we’re now ready to progress to phase 2 in children and have chosen to do this in NSW,” GW's CEO Justin Gover said in the statement.

University of NSW researcher, Roy Beran, said the ideal focus for the trial would be on a rare form of the disorder known as Dravet syndrome, according to the Southern Courier.

Dravet Syndrome, according to the Dravet Foundation, is an epilepsy condition that begins in infancy and is something that children cannot grow out of. It causes behavioral and developmental delays, orthopedic conditions, chronic infections and much more.

The deal will also involve a compassionate access scheme for those too sick to participate in a clinical trial, with the GW drug Epidiolex. It is a liquid formulation of pure plant-derived Cannabidiol (CBD) and is currently in late-stage trials in the U.S.

National sentiment for legalisation of medicinal cannabis is strong, with polls from market research company Roy Morgan showing 91 percent of Australians support the move.

The announcement follows a year of rife debate on the topic of legalising medicinal marijuana in the country, with the federal government recently announcing plans to legalise growing the plant for scientific purposes.

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