Industrial scale production has dominated store shelves for decades. Now that formula is being adopted by the cannabis industry. For Front Range Biosciences (FRB), mass propagation of crops starts in the lab, where consumer cannabis is selectively cultivated and sold to licensed growers. Today, the agricultural biotech startup, which works with coffee strains and industrial hemp clones as well as tissue-culture cannabis, closed a Series A round of $10 million.
Investors remain slow to put their money in marijuana while it remains illegal under federal law, even in states where it’s legalized for medical use, so it’s no surprise that FRB’s latest round is one of the largest biotech cannabis investments in the United States. The fresh cash influx will go toward expanding FRB’s trademarked Clean Stock program headquartered in Lafayette, Colorado. The program aims to produce quality-controlled curated cannabis plants in abundance.
“There’s always this dynamic between the scale of industrial agriculture versus the quality and business practices of your smaller local farms,” Jonathan Vaught, cofounder and CEO of FRB, told Forbes. Vaught, who previously worked in molecular diagnostics and food safety, notes that regulations are important for consumer and environment safety as well as to ensure that quality products make it to the market. “We’re all dealing with these regulatory challenges no matter which part of the supply chain you’re working in. It’s really about how you scale effectively and meet regulations,” said Vaught.
The FBR nursery takes young plants through a purification process called tissue-culture, which removes systematic pathogens in order to replicate a perfect plant for mass production. FRB grows cannabis in a micro-growing climate, much like a greenhouse but set in a sterile lab to control quality.
The process begins with pathogen removal, in which the plant is scrutinized under a microscope to make sure it is free of mold and other visible impurities. The batch is then tested for viruses, bacteria and fungi to ensure that the plant is safe and sterile for reproducing. Once completed, true-to-type plant nodes are mass propagated in plastic tubes and eventually shipped to growers. By providing pure, hyper-specific crops that can be grown on an industrial scale, farmers are able to offer consumers a consistent and recognizable brand that is regulation-compliant.
FRB research and advancements also includes varietal-development program, which uses genome sequencing to develop various plants that can adapt to a specific environment. The program aims to use the breeding platform to alter industrial hemp and marijuana compounds to modify the cannabinoid’s profile or make the crop drought- and pesticide-resistant. With the commercial market for cannabis expanding now more than ever, this science will allow FRB to develop new variants to keep up with growing consumer demand.
“This industry is driven by grass roots,” said Vaught. “There’s a very strong consumer demand for small farms that operate with certain values that align with the broader consumer market.” According to Vaught, FRB isn’t trying to cut out the little guy. The company’s goal is to work with both small and large farmers to help them tap into the lucrative cannabusiness. “There’s going to be a need in the supply chain that larger companies can provide,” Vaught said.
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