Big Pharma Wants In On Cannabis

2021 ended with huge news that Pfizer would be entering the medical cannabis market with a $6.7 billion acquisition of Arena Pharmaceuticals announced in December 2021.  

Arena Pharmaceuticals researches and develops cannabinoid receptor agonists (i.e. lab-made cannabinoids) for gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Treatments for gastrointestinal disorders make up a large market with over 60 million Americans diagnosed with a disorder each year according to GI Alliance

Complementing the acquisition is Arena’s patent portfolio for its investigative cannabinoid drugs including seventeen patent assets, seven of which have been granted. Some of these granted patents are continuations and divisions, lending the benefit of earlier priority dates and claiming different aspects of its invention. In addition to treating gastrointestinal disorders, Arena’s patent assets also cover treating pain with its investigational cannabinoid known as Olorinab (APD371). Olorinab was studied in 2019 in the CAPTIVATE Phase 2 Trial (NCT04043455) to test its efficacy against IBS, but no results were posted. It is likely that more trials will commence under Pfizer’s leadership. 

Unlike GW Pharmaceuticals, Arena Pharmaceuticals is focused on synthesized cannabinoids rather than naturally occurring ones like cannabidiol. This can be a more lucrative approach to the industry as various aspects of attaining the drug can be patented such as how to synthesize it, how to stabilize it, intermediate molecules, etc. in addition to patenting the drug itself. The key difference is, GW Pharmaceuticals already had an FDA-approved drug (Epidiolex®) upon its acquisition by Jazz Pharmaceuticals. Pfizer must be convinced Arena Pharmaceuticals can do the same. 

More acquisitions of this type by pharmaceutical companies are expected in the coming year. Bioscience companies and cannabis-focused pharmaceutical companies alike will be the target. Use the Cannabis Patent Forecast® to explore key players in the synthesized cannabinoid patent space.