By Roland Sebestyén
In partnership with Project Twenty21, a brand new clinics has just opened in the UK to fight inaccessibility and unaffordability of medical cannabis. Zerenia Clinics will go and try to change the industry and offer more patients the prescriptions they need. Canex spoke with Freeda Solliman, the Operations Director at Zerenia.
What is Zerenia? What is the message you’d like to push through?
Zerenia Clinics UK is a specialist medical cannabis clinic in London and another strategic approach to improve access to medical cannabis for patients in the UK. The general message of Zerenia is to improve patient access to medical cannabis treatments in every country we are operating. The new Zerenia location in the UK brings Zerenia’s total global clinic count to 15.
Tell us about the Zerenia model.
The Zerenia model is actually quite a holistic approach but there are central differences depending on the region. In the initial phase of operations, Zerenia Clinics UK will focus on pain management and will then expand its therapeutic portfolio to other areas such as mental health, women´s health, neurology and oncology. We are talking about a hybrid clinic model: Zerenia Clinics UK will initially focus on supporting patients digitally (or via video consultations) to enable streamlined access to patients across the UK. In the next step, we will also offer in-person appointments with medical cannabis specialist practitioners.
Consultancies always cost a fortune. A lot of consultants charge patients hundreds of pounds. Do you have any solutions?
Sure. I think the most important thing to highlight is any patient that comes to our clinic is having a consultation with a consultant on the specialist GMC register. Now, if you see a consultant at their level privately for not medical cannabis, but let’s say for pain or psychiatry, you will be looking at no less than £180 for that consultation.
We’re offering that at £80 with our virtual video consultation model. We’re trying to help to minimise the cost as we know that consultancies could cost a lot in a year.
Why did you choose to open a clinic in the UK?
We are here in the UK with an understanding that the market is very much regulated, which makes it very difficult for patients to access treatments with medical cannabis – not only because of the high costs, and the fact that it’s not on the NHS, but also the issues with the supply of medical cannabis in the country.
So, we did our research, we came into the market a bit later, having done that research and looked at ways to overcome some of the logistical issues, and also offer medical cannabis to patients at a competitive price. We begin with the needs of the patient and focus our activities around serving them. The demand determines our concrete measure – for example, the opening of a Zerenia clinic is an option if it serves to improve patient access to medical cannabis. This is the case in the UK, a very nascent market for medical cannabis, where our goal is to build a centre of excellence and create a safe environment for doctors and patients…
And you joined Project Twenty21, one of the biggest and most influential organisations in the industry.
With Project Twenty21, eligible patients can access affordable medical cannabis treatment, monitored by Drug Science. The project aims to create the UK’s largest body of evidence for the effectiveness and tolerability of medical cannabis. Drug Science hope that the findings of Project Twenty21 will provide evidence for NHS funding where the benefits of treatment with medicinal cannabis are proven to outweigh the potential risks.
I think when we were doing our research about moving into the UK with Zerenia, we always knew we would partner with Twenty21. We joined T21 because they match our aim of making medical cannabis more accessible to patients. So, we started those conversations quite early.
What do you see in the UK medical cannabis market?
We are talking about a still nascent medical cannabis market but with high potential. We want to help build a market and broaden access for patients. I think that the number of patients that can benefit from medical cannabis is really huge, especially when it comes to chronic pain and mental health.
What does it take to run a medical cannabis clinic?
The patients are at the heart of everything we do and our team supports patients from the enquiry stage and throughout their medical cannabis journey. But it is not only about patient focus and service: It is also essential that therapies with medical cannabis are affordable and that the cost structure is transparent.
You’ve got eight conditions you treat listed on your website. Are you planning to expand your list in the near future?
Yes, of course. We’re now focusing on chronic pain and mental health. We understand there’s a large group of patients with maybe cancer or cancer symptoms, so we’d like to get an oncologist on board. Also, Palliative care and Women’s Health are really important areas as well, so we’re looking for someone to support us in that aspect. As soon as we find the right people with the right training, we’d want to get them to join us.