Breaking ground: Helius and the future of medicinal cannabis innovations

8 January 2024
By Fashion Quarterly

Concerned or curious, we ask your most pressing questions about the role medicinal cannabis plays in creating a healthier, happier, Aotearoa.

Breaking ground: Helius and the future of medicinal cannabis innovations
Source: Unsplash.
Breaking ground: Helius and the future of medicinal cannabis innovations
Source: Unsplash.

Helius Therapeutics stands at the forefront of the dynamic landscape of medicinal cannabis, pioneering innovations that promise to reshape the industry and enhance patient care. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Carmen Doran, Chief Executive Officer at Helius. With an empathetic understanding of the intersection of medicine and horticulture, Doran provides a compelling perspective on the initiatives that Helius is spearheading to not only accelerate the research and development of medicinal cannabis but the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders as a result. 

As the architect behind many of Helius’ strategic initiatives, Doran brings a wealth of experience to the conversation. Her leadership role has been instrumental in driving the company’s commitment to innovation, sustainability, and accessibility. 

Helius has six liquid products covering CBD and THC and one flower product in-market and prices for patients have reduced by around half over the last two years.

Below, we explore the future of medicinal cannabis through the lens of Helius’ findings. 

In conversation with Carmen Doran, Helius CEO

Let’s talk about accessibility in New Zealand – specifically, how does Helius ensure that any doctor can prescribe medicinal cannabis for any condition, and any pharmacy can dispense it?

Helius is proud to drive access and affordability for our Kiwi patients. We have done this since our first launch over two years ago as the first New Zealand company to meet the minimum quality standards set out by our Ministry of Health for medicinal cannabis.

The number of prescriptions has doubled year on year from around 30,000 in 2021 to 60,000 in 2022 to an expected 130,000+ in 2023, being able to scale up the manufacturing processes supports better prices for patients and with a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, this is an exciting time to see the outputs grow from our site in East Tamaki.

Also bringing prices down for patients is that we are seeing more and more GPs comfortable prescribing medicinal cannabis, meaning patients can pay their normal GP consult fee rather than reaching out to a specialist clinic. Of course, in more complex cases or where medicinal cannabis is new for a GP, the specialist clinics fill a great gap. Helius has been dedicated to driving education for GPs via conferences and Health Care Professional events at their site.

How does Helius ensure the quality and reliability of its medicinal cannabis products by either growing the plants at Helius or through organically certified supply partners like Puro?

Our extract products are made from plants grown right here in Aotearoa under strict and highly controlled conditions. Cannabidiol or CBD is the non-psychoactive plant of the plant and the most prescribed medicinal cannabis products in NZ, accounting for around half of all prescriptions. Our Helius CBD is grown by our strategic supply partners, Puro New Zealand on the beautiful Kekerengu coast, using all that amazing Marlborough sunshine and soil that produces award winning wines. Puro is also one of the few fully certified organic producers of medicinal cannabis and we love that we can offer that level of trust and safety to our patients.

Tetrahydrocannabinol,, or THC as it is commonly known, is a controlled substance. Our extract products THC is grown at Helius indoors where we control everything from temperature to nutrients to lighting levels. We don’t use pesticides and every batch is tested in our onsite analytical lab.

Breaking ground: Helius and the future of medicinal cannabis innovations
Source: Unsplash.
Breaking ground: Helius and the future of medicinal cannabis innovations
Source: Unsplash.

3. Can you discuss any sustainable practices or initiatives that Helius employs in the cultivation and production processes?

Helius has a number of sustainability initiatives. In 2021, we worked with Callaghan Innovation to implement composting of our waste plant matter. We use rainwater from the roof to water our plants and recycle it through our facility and all of our energy is from solar and sustainable sources. Onsite, we have recycling and composting programs in place so nothing is wasted.

4. Can you highlight specific aspects of the team’s expertise in making medicines and horticulture? How does this collective experience contribute to the development and production of high-quality medicinal cannabis products?

One of my favourite things about Helius is the diversity of the team, bringing experience together from around the globe to deliver for our patients. With people from the legal cannabis markets in USA, South America and Europe alongside medicines experience from NZ, Europe, Asia and USA, we bring all the best practices together for the best outcomes.

Alongside the experienced team members, we recognise that this is a brand new industry for NZ and so we are also growing our own talent for the future via the Callaghan Innovation Internship programs where we host 3 undergraduate interns every year and also have 2 postgraduate career interns that have joined our team.

One of the elements often discussed in how medicinal cannabis works is the Entourage Effect, whereby the cannabinoids and terpenes (the active ingredients) all work together in a synergistic way so the sum of the parts is greater than if you had each one individually. The term Entourage Effect is one of the Helius values – something much bigger than teamwork or collaboration to really deliver exciting ideas. Alongside Entourage Effect, our other values are Caring, Curiosity and Get it Done!

5. How does Helius plan to stay at the forefront of advancements in the industry?

Helius is continually developing new more effective medicinal solutions for the future. Unfortunately the regulations mean I can’t talk about specifics of our future products, but I can offer some insights into how we develop them!

As well as having an onsite Innovation Laboratory, we partner with Auckland University of Technology Drug Discovery Unit, University of Canterbury Biomedical Engineering department and this year sponsored the Auckland University Business School PhD Conference to have the best and brightest minds in the country working on future projects. We have support for our innovation projects and product pipeline via Callaghan Innovation grants.

Helius is proud to drive access and affordability for our Kiwi patients. We have done this since our first launch over two years ago as the first New Zealand company to meet the minimum quality standards set out by our Ministry of Health for medicinal cannabis.

Carmen Doran, CEO of Helius

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