Q&A: Russell Harding


AJP chats with the pharmacist turned CEO of a Queensland-based medicinal cannabis company

Russell Harding is the CEO and Executive Chairman of Indica Industries Pty Ltd – a Queensland-based medicinal cannabis company that will trade as MedReleaf Australia.

Mr Harding has more than 35 years’ experience as a pharmacist and pharmacy entrepreneur in Australia.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Pharmacy Degree from the Victorian College of Pharmacy in 1974, he spent several years overseas in hospital pharmacy management and administration.

Over time, Mr Harding ventured into pharmacy start-ups and in 1983 established his own pharmacy group, the Hardings Pharmacies Group.

Through the Hardings Pharmacy Group, he opened six pharmacies and developed a business model dedicated to clinically focused community pharmacy operations.

Here AJP chats with Mr Harding about his experiences with medicinal cannabis, and where this space is heading.

1. What is the latest with medicinal cannabis in Australia?

Medicinal cannabis is an emerging industry in Australia right now. The industry is finding its feet through layers of complex regulations​ that have led to public frustration, doctor frustration, industry frustration, and pharmacy frustration, with the unfortunate result that patients are suffering as they await access to safe, cannabis-based medicines. ​

In recognition of this situation, MedReleaf Australia is keen to work with the TGA, ODC, and State Health Department regulators to streamline this process.

As there is currently no local product available in Australia, companies such as ours need to import product until we have commissioned our manufacturing facility – in our case, later next year.  

2. How did you, as a pharmacist, end up in the role of CEO of a medicinal cannabis producer?

​Someone told me years ago at the APP Conference that medical cannabis would be coming to Australia and pharmacists needed to embrace it. ​

For 20 years, I have built a great team of reliable pharmacists who manage my pharmacies admirably, allowing me to engage at this level of corporate activity.

MedReleaf Australia is the result of a 2016 tour of Canada, followed by a joint venture with one of that country’s largest medicinal cannabis producers. I am privileged to be supported on this exciting journey with a tremendous team, both in Canada and here in Australia. 

3. Why should pharmacists be interested in medicinal cannabis?

​Pharmacists are integral to their patients’ health outcomes and need to take a keen interest in all available therapies.

Medicinal cannabis is another way to support the management of serious medical conditions, and as an industry, we need to enable patient access to pharmaceutical grade medicine.

Pharmacists should be across ​the tsunami of research, and understand the State-based pharmacy regulations in order to assist GPs to engage in the Special Access Scheme (SAS) prescribing process.

It’s not easy at present to be facing various complex industry regulations, but we all hope that over time, access to medicinal cannabis will become much easier. Pharmacists need to be prepared for that.

​Once research outcomes are known, our company expects medicinal cannabis will play a pivotal role in the treatment of a wide range of disease states, with a view to our products being PBS-listed in the coming years.

 4. What is different about your company’s products?

​MedReleaf Australia is fortunate to have the scientific rigour, operational expertise and support of MedReleaf Corp., which holds a small share in MedReleaf Australia, ​and was the first Licensed Producer in Canada to be GMP-certified.

What this means is that from day one, when our first imported products arrive, pharmacists can trust what we will be dispensing to our patients.

As a company, MedReleaf Australia will also be rolling out various education programs, to help heighten education involving the role medicinal cannabis can play in treatment.

We will also have tools to assist pharmacists to navigate the State health requirements and be making our products vi​a the ​national wholesaler network, with whom we have close relationships, given my engagement with the industry as an owner for 35 years.

MedReleaf Australia is now taking early orders from Australian pharmacies and hospitals, with product anticipated in Q1, 2018.

To learn more about MedReleaf Australia, see medreleafaustralia.com.au.

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