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Philip Morris, the company behind Marlboro cigarettes, is plotting a major push into the cannabis sector with the inhaler maker it bought for £1bn in a heavily-criticised takeover last year.
The world’s biggest tobacco seller wants to develop “cannabinoid products that help people take wellbeing into their own hands” following its purchase of Vectura, a pharmaceutical business that makes drugs to combat diseases caused by smoking for the NHS.
The pair, along with Danish company Fertin Pharma, also want to roll out medical cannabis to treat heart attacks and chronic pain.
Philip Morris’s £1.2bn acquisition of Chippenham-based Vectura last year sparked indignation among anti-smoking campaigners.
In response to the criticism, and threats that Vectura would be ejected from medical research groups, Philip Morris pledged to run the pharmaceuticals firm separately from its tobacco business.
But marketing material published last week read: “Vectura Fertin Pharma brings together Vectura’s expertise in inhalation, Fertin Pharma’s leadership in oral and intra-oral delivery systems, and Philip Morris International’s pre-clinical expertise and worldwide reach and scale.”
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), said: “Last August PMI [Philip Morris International] gave a public commitment ‘to operate Vectura as an autonomous business unit’.
“Less than nine months later, Vectura and PMI are closely entwined in a joint venture.”
A spokesman for Philip Morris said: “PMI has created an autonomous wellness and healthcare business unit – Vectura Fertin Pharma – that brings together recent acquisitions. Vectura and Fertin will now operate as wholly owned subsidiaries of Vectura Fertin Pharma and maintain their own leadership teams.
“Vectura Fertin Pharma has no plan to roll out any recreational cannabis product.”
It comes after Will Downie and Paul Fry quit their respective roles as chief executive and finance head of Vectura last week following the deal’s completion.
Jorge Insuasty, chief life sciences officer at Philip Morris praised the two executives for turning Vectura “into a leading inhaled therapeutic products company”.