Doorstop interview, Sydney
Transcript of Minister for Health, Greg Hunt's doorstop interview in Sydney on 22 February 2017.
The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health
22 February 2017
Topics: $4 million funding to open a micro gut health research centre; announcement to deliver faster supply of medicinal cannabis products for patients with the necessary approvals
Today with Professor Emad El-Omar here at St George, and also in particular with David Coleman, the Member for Banks, the incredible galaxy of researchers that we have, and people such as Amira, who has done her PhD, and she’s working in research to find and diagnose problems, to find cures, to save, extend, and improve lives.
In that context, I am delighted to announce that the Australian Government will contribute $4.4 million for the establishment of a Microbiome Research Centre to be funded through the St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation.
At the end of the day, this is about finding the problems of the belly and the gut, diagnosing them, treating them, and exactly as Amira said to me, improving lives, extending lives, and saving lives.
We have one of the great medical research traditions of any other country in the world. Howard Florey, Macfarlane Burnet, Gustav Nossal, Ian Frazer, Fiona Stanley, Fiona Wood, Elizabeth Blackburn. What an incredible history.
But the next wave of great researchers are to be found here, people such as those young PhD grads that we’ve met today, and their job is to diagnose what as previously been impossible to detect, and then to treat the conditions of the gut.
And whether we’ve seen colorectal cancer being researched, whether it is the treatment for women with pregnancy conditions such as pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes, there is hope, and the work of Emad and his team is about providing the hope.
And our money, which David has fought for through a powerful campaign, will go to creating this centre, to turning it into a world-leading micro biota or Microbiome Research Centre. Boiled down, that means understanding the problems of the belly and the gut, and finding the cures.
The other thing I want to announce today is that since coming into the role only a few short weeks ago, a very important and early issue to families, to people I’ve spoken with different conditions, whether it’s epilepsy, and I’ve met with parents of a beautiful young girl who’s suffering severe epilepsy.
I’ve spoken with an older gentleman, formerly in public life who is in the late stages of dealing with what appears to be a very grim cancer, medicinal cannabis can be an important part of their treatment.
We have issued through the Office of Drug Control today at my request new rules which will allow for the importation of medicinal cannabis to create an interim national supply.
This can only be prescribed and should only be prescribed by doctors and medical professionals.
We will have the strictest regime in the world, but as of now, we have put in place a means of guaranteeing supply.
I expect that that will take about eight weeks, on the advice that I have, to ensure there is a continuous supply of medicinal cannabis in Australia.
But ultimately this is about the Government doing the right thing under the strictest conditions. Safety and quality are paramount, but it’s about the compassionate use of a medicine prescribed through the TGA process and made available only by doctors.
But our task whilst we are waiting for domestic suppliers to come on board is for the first time in history to provide an import process which will allow us to have an interim national supply.
I believe it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the decent thing to do, but today is about the work of the Microbiome Research Centre.
I will turn briefly to Emad and then to David to comment on that, and then I’d be happy to take questions on anything after. Emad?
Thank you very much, Minister Hunt, and David, it’s a great honour and pleasure to welcome you here, and we’ve very grateful to the Federal Government for giving us this grant to kick start our Microbiome Research Centre.
We’re dealing with the microbiome, which is a very exciting development in medicine. The bugs that grow in your gut have a major influence on your health, and are responsible for lots of diseases that affect our community and our society.
So this opportunity to establish a national Microbiome Research Centre will allow us to study all of the interactions between these bugs and our health, identify markers of disease and predictors of disease, and institute some therapeutic advantage in the future.
So it’s a very exciting development for us, and we’re very grateful for this opportunity to start it, and I’d like to thank on behalf of the St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation, University of New South Wales, and the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District for this opportunity to establish the centre. Thank you.
Thanks. Well, it’s great to be here this morning for this really important announcement. Here in Southern Sydney, we can and are doing world-leading medical research through the St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation, and this $4.4 million funding support from the Federal Government which we announced today will help our fantastic researchers and medical staff in their very important efforts.
I’d like to thank Professor John Edmonds, the chairman of the foundation, Mr Peter Christopher, the CEO, all of the staff, and all of the many local businesses who over the years have supported the foundation to help bring it to where it is today, and through this support that we announced today, I’m confident that the foundation will only go from strength to strength and produce great research outcomes for our community.
Great. Happy to take any questions, firstly on the centre and secondly on other matters. Alright. Other matters?
We should shoot straight to the medicinal cannabis news to talk practically about what these recommendations mean in terms of speeding up their access to these products?
Sure. This is about making certain that once the doctors have made a decision, and it’s always a decision for the doctors, the patient will be able to get rapid access within a matter of days.
At the moment, there is a legal regime which allows access but practically there’s not the supply available.
So Victoria is doing the right thing and developing its own supply. We’ve just put in place the first license for private cultivation research, and that will bring on supply, but in the interim, let’s get on with this now.
It’s a moment in Australian history where we can have a mature approach to not just pain relief, but people who have profound conditions, palliative care needs, and it’s time that they have the care that they need, the drugs that are prescribed by medical professionals, and that they’re actually available.
How many companies will be able to import?
So that’ll be a matter for the Therapeutic Goods Administration. I understand that there are a number of companies that may seek to apply but they will decide themselves.
At this stage, the Office of Drug Control and the Therapeutic Goods Administration have had particular discussions with one that is looking likely to make an early application, and that’s very prospective.
That’s why I say I believe that we’ll be able to have the interim national supply within eight weeks. I’d like it earlier, but I’ll be conservative in my estimates.
What about policing this? Obviously there’ll be a strict regime, but will police for example have to play an important role in managing this?
So the supply will have to be in what’s called a bonded warehouse, which is a strictly controlled, legally approved supply regime, and it would only be imported where the importer has been pre-approved and has met all of the legal and all of the medical requirements. So what we want to do is very simple.
We want to make supply available, but it has to be legal, it has to be safe, and what we want to do is make sure this medicinal cannabis is available, but on the same basis as any of the serious drugs and medicines that can only be dealt with through prescription and through a very vigorous medical process.
Critics within this discussion are concerned about a slippery slope towards eventual decriminalisation altogether? I suspect that’s not the case.
That’s not our plan. That’s not what we’re doing on our watch.
This is about a medical product for medical needs prescribed by medical professionals.
What about streamlining this process? You talk about this being about access for patients, but some patients are expressing frustration that the process of approval is lengthy and complicated.
Sometimes they can’t find doctors, because doctors can’t advertise that they are approved to prescribe medicinal cannabis. Things like that.
So one of the other things that I’ve done is that I’ve asked my department to have an easy access regime available on the website, so that people can have a one-stop shop.
Now, that’s not to say the doctors will prescribe. This is the case with any medicine and any drug, as it should be.
Doctors have a high bar, and I know from talking with both the AMA and the College of General Practitioners that they will treat this very cautiously.
They will treat it in the same way as other serious medicines and drugs. It is simply a matter of patient care dispensed by the doctors through their prescription process and controlled through a very strict regime.
Alright. Thank you very much.