Nanaimo, Canada & Basel, Switzerland — Tilray, a medical-cannabis producer, has established a new partnership with pharmaceutical giant Novartis, affording the former sales and distribution channels in tens of new countries. Canada was the second country in the world—and is still the only G7 member—to legalize recreational pot. Small Canadian producers like Tilray have an opportunity to get ahead in the market. 

But the opportunity might be just as pronounced for legacy brands like Novartis, which may be looking for a “hedge” against the growing medical-cannabis industry. As Tilray CEO Brendan Kennedy said, “Around the world, people are substituting medical cannabis for traditional pharmaceutical products. Medical cannabis is disrupting big pharma, and [Novartis is] smart for being ahead.”

Under the terms of the partnership, Tilray will be able to take advantage of Novartis subsidiary Sandoz’s major sales channels across all areas of the world in which marijuana is legal. As it prepares to expand into new markets, Tilray looks forward to leveraging the Sandoz name. According to Kennedy, “If a product comes into a pharmacy with the Sandoz logo co-branded on it, or if a pharmaceutical sales rep is talking to a physician about a product that’s branded as Tilray and Sandoz, it lends credibility to that product.”

Additionally, the Canadian company recognizes that it has a steep road ahead when it comes to educating healthcare providers about medical marijuana. To facilitate, they’ll make use of Novartis’s expert field force. 

In addition to sharing sales channels and reps, Tilray and Sandoz will actually co-brand some new products, including some oil and capsule cannabis medications. They also plan to collaborate on some research initiatives and jointly develop new therapies. That said, Tilray is still not prioritizing its medical cannabis efforts over its recreational ones. 

Why This Matters

This pioneering partnership represents the first of its kind, and it suggests there will likely be a flourishing Big Marijuana industry in the not-so-distant future. Large pharmaceutical companies are likely to follow Novartis’s lead as the possibilities of medical cannabis reach more and more people. 

About the Author:

Ben helps spark innovative healthcare thinking as Associate Director of Innovation. Previously on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair, he brings experience in engaging, rigorous storytelling to the healthcare world. Ben’s goals are to move brands to rethink their roles, own their evolving narratives, and maintain vital and vigorous consumer relationships.