Dr. Jonathan Vaught, Founder of Front Range Biosciences™
Dr. Jonathan Vaught is CEO and Founder of Front Range Biosciences™. Previously, he was Director of Assay Development at Velocity Sciences, an IP development company creating next generation assay technologies for diagnostic applications. He also served as a Senior Product Development Scientist at Beacon Biotechnology, where he led development of a foodborne pathogen detection platform. Prior to Beacon, Dr. Vaught spent 5 years as a scientist at Somalogic where he helped build and optimize the SOMAscan assay, the world’s largest proteomic based biomarker discovery assay that measures 1000’s of proteins in a single sample.
He brings together a diverse background with expertise in organic synthesis, biochemistry, assay development, proteomics, and analytical chemistry. He is an inventor on two patents and an author on 7 publications in peer reviewed journals. Dr. Vaught received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Colorado at Boulder and his BS in chemistry from North Carolina State University.
[00:00:01] You're listening to Thinking Outside the Bud where we speak with entrepreneurs investors thought leaders researchers advocates and policymakers who are finding new and exciting ways for cannabis to positively impact business society and culture. And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt
[00:00:29] Welcome everyone. This is thinking outside the mind of Bruce Eckfeldt. On your host and today we heard Dr. Jonathan Vaught who is CEO and founder of Front Range bio sciences. Jonathan welcome to the program.
[00:00:41] Thank you. It's nice to be here. So why don't we start with just a little bit on your background sort of professional and how you got into candidates and when you talk a little bit about bio sciences and what you're doing in terms sounds science behind a lot of this stuff so that we can better understand how do we best use candidates from a business kind of industry point of view.
[00:01:00] Yes certainly. So my background and I'll try to keep this as brief as I can. But but I do have an interesting path this year.
[00:01:10] So my background is I have a B.S. in chemistry from North Carolina State University. I have a Peachtree and organic chemistry from the University of Colorado at Boulder and spend most of my career in the molecular diagnostics world. I started out while I was in graduate school and got the opportunity to work on a technology platform development for a startup company and the human diagnostics space here in Colorado a company called Soma logic.
[00:01:37] And I actually was able to put together a lot of the core pieces of the technology as a graduate student and got some of the first papers and patents and then I went to work for them as a fulltime scientist and the company was focused on human diagnostics and so we were looking at the human proteomics which are proteins that make a human body basically and how we can use those to predict disease outcomes improve personalized medicine targeted treatments spent a lot of time working directly with pharmaceutical companies and a lot of it was to develop acetate technologies that would support FDA submissions for clinical trial work and support improved treatment outcomes with data that backed up you know how certain medicines work. So I spent about six years there helped them grow that company from 20 people to over a hundred and twenty.
[00:02:31] We got to tens of millions in revenue and really great great way to launch my career.
[00:02:37] And then I got recruited into another molecular diagnostic startup company but in a very different world the food safety space and they brought me on to help develop technology for detection of pathogens like salmonella listeria and cold and large scale food processing. So I spent a couple of years. This company was called Beacon biotechnology I spent a couple of years there and I was building basically a new device that would sit on the factory floor of a large food processing facilities and allow the factory floor workers and personnel to run these fairly sophisticated tests that traditionally had been run in a laboratory they'd be able to run these onsite there. And so it was a big big effort and technology development and then manufacturing and how to meet this new instrument and get it out into the market.
[00:03:25] Yeah it was it was a great experience my first exposure to big agriculture for sure and a great learning experience and a great stepping stone in my career and then I went to help start another company called Velocity sciences with my former PHC advisor. That was back on the human side and we were doing more intellectual property development very similar to the type of work we did. I did it so my logic working with pharmaceutical companies working on things just like we did it some logic like cancer diagnostics heart disease diagnostics trying to improve you know just the industry's ability to improve treatment outcomes and predict disease outcomes and things of that nature. I spent a couple of years there and while I was there I started watching the cannabis industry flourish here in Colorado and had always been interested in agriculture and certainly medicinal plants are kind of the foundation for most pharmaceuticals action. That's where most most of the compounds come from.
[00:04:26] But you will realize that a lot of a lot of pharmaceuticals actually come from plants or at least natural products for plants. But but anyway so I saw cannabis as an interim business opportunity. I evaluated our ability to work in that space at that company. But given the regulatory hurdles and legality status at that point here in Colorado and federally it just wasn't a clear path for us to do that to do any work in that space. And so I decided to go out and start from Orange bio sciences and that was about three and a half years ago and as a little side note on my background during this time I was actually a Deakin actually a couple of other companies I had started a non-profit in Boulder called mountain flower dairy. It's a 5 or 1 see 3 go farm that did a small micro dairy here. They get a raw milk share for the community and you see summer camps and workshops really to help educate people on where their food came from.
[00:05:18] And you know this was partly my response to you know just learning about more about agriculture big agriculture and food production world.
[00:05:26] You know in terms of exactly I'm sure seizing that process being there.
[00:05:31] Yeah yeah yeah. Being in it firsthand and so you know really wanting to give people a chance to just to learn what it really takes and you know a lot of people don't realize that milk doesn't come out of a bottle for example.
[00:05:42] And so it was it was a lot of fun. But I also kind of fell in love with farming. So I spent nights and weekends doing this as a side project. And you know everything from going fences and building barns that wrangling goats and they're saying dealing with nursing goats and babies.
[00:06:00] And so anyways so all of that really kind of combined with my professional career and you know molecular diagnostics and working with drug companies and even food companies. It really catalyzed the motivation for starting front rage and so to finish it up we started I started for a range. I met my co-founder Nick hofmeister.
[00:06:22] He's actually an MBA out of my teeth. And he has a similar startup background experience to me in the biotech world. Algae biofuels and interesting articles and that very much from the business side with his background in business and finance and so we made a great team and we started putting together business models evaluating the regulatory and corporate structure that would allow us to build a company in this industry. And then we went live. We incorporated at the end of 2015 and then we we started raising money in 2016 and started operations in August of 2016. So we just celebrated our two year anniversary and we basically set up for a range bioscience is to translate existing agricultural technologies into the cannabis space but then also more broadly we saw the opportunity to innovate and use that type of technology that we'll talk about here in a minute and other other crops as well. And so it's turned into much broader than just cannabis. So we work and we currently have three crops. We work with cannabis which we include two crops industrial hemp and then marijuana or high THC cannabis. And then we also work in coffee currently and we might take on additional crops. But but those are the three right now that we work in. We have facilities in Colorado and in California and our business is really focused on two areas are clean stock nursery program and then our varietal development or breeding program which is really about understanding the cannabis genome and the plant genome and using it to improve our ability to break. And so that's really us in a nutshell and a lot of it is driven by fundamental technology called tissue culture which is how we actually propagate our plants in a clean room type environment and are able to certify them as part of our Queenstown program. So I'll stop there and I'm sure you've got some buzz.
[00:08:09] Yeah no not lots of questions and I like the whole kind of your background and looking at sort of agricultural and human science and application of effectiveness in medicine and effectiveness in agricultural production because I think that's as we're looking forward in this cannabis industry to more kind of larger scale production and the whole question of how do we really grow at scale reliable consistent dependable product is actually you know it's problematic.
[00:08:36] You know of a lot of people certainly would witness wetness going to scale.
[00:08:40] You know we can grow a lot and we can grow well but growing a lot Well this is a tough one to get right to just understand.
[00:08:45] So it sounds like you are you also ultimately your customers are growers who are looking for different varietals and looking for different science and approaches to the actual growing process.
[00:08:55] Yeah I think I think that's a pretty good summary. I mean I think our arts were a going to be business and our customers are certainly growers farmers of these different crops. And you know our main way we interact with customers is through our nursery. And so we use our nursery to supply them large quantities of plants. So you know for him let's take him for example you know we work with a lot of hemp growers here in Colorado and we'll deliver during the spring.
[00:09:24] You know large volumes of plugs or plant starts or clones of a specific variety then they go transplant into the ground and these could be large acreage hundreds you know up to some folks are now doing thousands of acres in industrial hemp and and so we supply them the plant starts so that they can really stay focused on production and you know our goal is to provide the highest quality at scale so the ability to actually predicts hundreds of thousands even millions of plants and deliver those in a format that gives them what they want in terms of crop production and we also are working on seed to we will actually be doing some seed especially in hep but takes a lot longer. You really have to do a lot of validation work and in testing and breeding to actually get what you would consider stable seed that could be certified.
[00:10:12] So your facilities basically look like they're very high tech growing facilities where you're doing the starts and then packaging now up in various ways to deliver them onsite to growers to farmers who then actually plant and do the actual growing and harvesting now.
[00:10:26] Yeah exactly. And into to get a little more specific there's two parts to our facilities. The first is the tissue culture lab. And this is a laboratory environment. It's where you can think like a clean room type environment for manufacturing. Actually not so different than what you might have for certain types of manufacturing environments. And that's where we we work on producing the plants and tissue culture and then the other part of our operation is the greenhouse. So we move plants from the laboratory to the greenhouse through a process called a climate cessation. And then once we get the plants into the greenhouse then we get them ready for production so that we can deliver large volumes of plants to growers. So that's really the core of our of our operations. We have that setup for. For hemp and Colorado we also have a small scale TCE lab that we work with a partner here in Colorado on the marijuana side then in California we have a tissue culture and a laboratory tissue culture lab and a greenhouse Gilroy California where we do our coffee propagation coffee work and then we also are in construction of a tissue culture lab and greenhouse setup in Salinas California that will be operational later this year that serves marijuana growers and farmers.
[00:11:39] And that's you know obviously know with the various certain legality of you know THC based products cannabis products in different areas and interesting transportation all that you've got to set up these different facilities in these different states to actually serve these local farmers. It sounds like.
[00:11:55] Oh yes certainly I mean we read regulatory as a whole separate discussion but yeah we you know our goal one of the things that I think I bring to the industry is you know given my experience working in regulated environments so everything that I did in human diagnostics you know I mean I've been through audits with pharmaceutical companies because all of their data gets put to the FDA which means it has to be there's a quality control or quality assurance system called GMP Good Manufacturing Practice. That's something that you hear a lot of especially in pharmaceuticals and molecular diagnostics. And so you know I'm used to working in regulated environments used to working closely with regulatory to make sure that you are compliant and it's not only about you know serving the regulatory body and you know it's really about consumer safety and really making sure that you know what you're putting out in the marketplace it's safe for consumers because at the end of the day as a company you're liable for what you put out in the marketplace. And even if even if something goes wrong and it's not your fault you can still be found liable and you can see that you know there's certainly lots of cases over the last 20 years you know things like food safety operating rate and you know some producer of a vegetable or crop ends up getting sued because they made you know 100 people sick and you know they didn't realize I mean you know there's there's all kinds of stories like that and then you know certainly when you go into things like nutrients cuticles and pharmaceuticals you know where you've got potentially you know drug like compounds that have strong effects right. You know the day you're responsible for what you put out into the world. So so we take it really seriously. It's a very transparent policy of transparency with both regulators and with our customers.
[00:13:41] I think that whole I mean everyone seems to be struggling with this whole kind of effectiveness question both in terms of the products are produced and the consistency of the production.
[00:13:52] I think that you know a lot of what's happening kind of protein sign is you know we start with the right material produce it in a consistent way process it in the same way put it into a consumable form and know that it's going to have the effects know the ultimate medicinal effects that we're looking for you know depending on the patients and the people taking it. So I think this is the start of all that making sure we're starting with the right you know with the right fundamentals.
[00:14:18] Before we go into the growing process I mean just a contrast this a little bit right now it traditionally you know how how does a grower actually know about this process and how do you change that for folks like you know someone starting and grow their gone and finding they're finding seeds and they're they're starting with seeds and starting the process that way is that is that what it is right now and that's how most people do it.
[00:14:39] Yeah. So it really depends on what you know kind of what market and what industry you're you know you're looking at. So hemp and marijuana are a little bit different but in general from a high level there they're both very similar in a lot of ways and so generally people either start with seeds or a lot of people will start with clones so people have maintained a clone line which would be a parental plant like a mother is typically what they would call them. Sometimes those are been maintained for years even decades now and they'll simply take cuttings and and provide those to a new grower or a new farmer. And the advantage of that is typically when you clone from something you already know what to expect whereas with a seed you have to grow it up and evaluate it because right now there is no certified seed. Well there's a few examples of certified seed now and Hib but that's it. And even then you know the availability of the different varieties that you might want to grow. Is not there's not a lot of variety of certified seeds so you're kind of limited in what you've got there.
[00:15:34] So seed really has a lot of challenges currently and I expect it'll take him to the three to five years before that really gets solved because that's really how long it can take of a specific breeding practices to actually generate stable seed product. And that's that's compared. This is a short cycle crops you can get several cycles a year. When you compare it to some other crops I mean you know and you look historically it's taken a decade or more to get stable seed in your crop and sometimes people are still working on it and so you know it's really a longer term process and in the interim and that's what we really focused on tissue culture cloning and the ability to produce high quality large quantity of the exact same plant. That's why we went down that path because I think it really serves the needs of what growers have right now. And and we'll need that for quite some time and so that's that's really been been our focus.
[00:16:28] So how much of this is technology around kind of process around how to quickly produce enough enough product on a particular trial or a particular time versus looking at new new types and sort of increasing your product line.
[00:16:42] Where are you. Where are you generally focused.
[00:16:45] That's an interesting question.
[00:16:47] I'd say we you know we're where the industry is moving so quickly that we're there's a lot of existing varieties out there that cover the different types of traits or products you want out of this plant. And so we generally you know we have everything from we just simply go purchase something on the open market such as seeds or clones and then we get it into the nursery and characterize it and propagate it all the way to licensing deals or in license some unique variety that somebody spent several years working to create know all the way to we're working on creating our own varieties through our vital development program and we're evaluating those new varieties for how they perform as well. So it kind of spans the whole range but we're constantly trying to evaluate what's out there and what we can get into production because at the end of the day our number one goal is to help improve farmer's bottom line. Right. So they don't have to worry about characterizing these plants. They don't have to worry about the nursery side. They don't have to worry about clean healthy clones and producing hundreds of thousands or millions of them. We take that off their plate for them and they focused on what they do best which is how to produce their product right. And they get the genetics they grow them and then they can actually stay focused on production. We're certainly evaluating a lot of new things on a regular basis now.
[00:18:09] And one is the I guess what's the market like in your competition like in the space.
[00:18:13] Are there other companies that are filling this need or solving this problem. Growers are unique in this.
[00:18:20] Yeah there's there's two answers to that question. You know I think from a nursery perspective you know there are certainly other nurseries especially in California where agriculture has really been the dominant dominant industry there for a century. And so there are certainly other nurseries there even in Colorado where agriculture is also a pretty big component of the industry here. You know there's there's some nurseries in Colorado as well. So in that regard you know there are certainly some nurseries although not a lot of focus has been on the nursery industry at this point for the nursery part of the supply chain. It's more been on the growing and production and the product side. And so you know so but we're starting to see more folks enter into the States.
[00:19:01] But then the other side of that is almost none of them have tissue culture so difficult year is a pretty challenging process. It requires P HD and they're not only HD that people experienced in production agriculture because at the end of the day a lot of people use tissue culture as a research process and we certainly do that too. But our main focus is to use it for production and that's a difference. It's a different set of challenges. You know it's one thing to produce a few plants and tissue culture but be able to reproducibility make hundreds of thousands or millions at scale it's really a very different proposition and it requires a lot of labor requires the right facilities the right technologies from a process perspective it requires quality control system and all of these different pieces. And so I think that's that's the big differentiator for us is that we use that to produce higher quality plants that can be certified virus free that will produce pesticide free plants. So we really are focused on what we would consider in quotes you know cleanliness of the supply chain starting at the very beginning which is the nursery and at the risk of kind of getting getting into a lot of scientific detail.
[00:20:10] Just give us a sense a time when we talk about tissue culture propagation. Like what.
[00:20:14] What is the process you know from kind of production point of view.
[00:20:17] Like what or what level are you dealing with the plant. How what process are you putting it through.
[00:20:22] What does it really take to make this work from the application that you're looking at at scale a point of view.
[00:20:28] Yeah. I think and I'll I'll just talk a little bit about the two different crops because I think it illustrates how tissue culture is applied to different you know different plants you know in coffee for example really quickly. It's a very different plant the way we propagated it's very different. And we actually go through a process where you use what's called callus which are what a lot of people think of and tissue culture which are these basically plant stem cells if you will that are grown in Petri dishes and then they can even be bio reactors and eventually you can turn these into plants in cannabis. We use a process that's called micro propagation which is where we're actually not using cows material because there's a lot of reasons why but at the end of the day you're really using very small microbe cuts so you know very small subsections of the plant.
[00:21:16] So nodes if you will where you have new growth coming out of the plant and then that's where we propagate from in the tissue culture lab. So when you think about tissue culture in cannabis it's really and whether it's hemp or marijuana it's really you know for production it's micro propagation and micro propagation is really very very similar to cloning or cutting or vegetative propagation in the greenhouse. Only it's done in this clean room environment. And it's you know it's there's some differences for sure but it's from a process perspective it's very very similar. And then one last piece to add to this is a lot of people go was this genetic engineering. Absolutely not. You know this is really just a very highly controlled clean process for doing propagation in a laboratory environment so that your plants come out of the lab completely clean. And so it doesn't involve any type of genetic manipulation or anything else. It certainly does allow you to make sure that your plants are uniform right and so that you know we have a quality control and that's all part of our clean stock program which is what we call treat type testing. So we make sure that every batch that comes out we test some of those plants to make sure they perform a specified. And they haven't undergone some type of changes or they don't have some problem yet because mutations happen in tissue culture. They happen in the greenhouse count they happen in vegetative propagation. That's just part of biology. Yes is that plants. Plants of all.
[00:22:39] Yeah interesting. Where do you see this industry going.
[00:22:42] If we you know we're kind of I guess we're always going to have a breaking point and a tipping point the cannabis industry but you know we're we're certainly seeing a lot more states a lot more countries starting down both legally and recreationally or medically and recreationally legal demand seems to be a bit of an upsurge. And where where do you think the industry is going to go in the next couple years where do you think the challenges are going to be.
[00:23:07] I mean you're certainly at an interesting one which is the whole. How do we get enough product into the market. How do you think that's going to play out or what do you think the challenges are going to be in the coming years.
[00:23:15] Yeah that's a great question.
[00:23:17] You know it's always impossible to predict the future but you know I think the way we view the world we see cannabis as one of the world's next commodity crops. I mean it is got applications in everything from industrial use and fibers and even potentially plastics you know on on one end of the spectrum all the way to you know pharmaceuticals you know the first really exciting for CBD plant based CBD drug was approved by the FDA and it went out in the market this year in the United States but all X and so you know that's the other side of the spectrum.
[00:23:51] So that's a cannabinoid based drug that's gone through the full FDA approval process to get out in the market. And so we think the industry's really going to begin to segment in these different spaces. And I think about it as pharmaceutical nutrition suitable then even functional food. So I think hemp protein you know it's got a very seed produces a very good protein source. It's got a set of balanced amino acids for the most part a balanced set of fatty acids so omega 3s to make it six as the ratio is actually just about right for for humans. So Amy it's got a lot of beneficial effects. I think hemp protein will see as the supply chain scales and the genetics improve over time I think we'll see that become a big vegetarian protein source and then moving down into just all the leftover fiber from the biomass in the plant and stocks and all of that. You know there's already applications of fiber and everything from clothing to even in construction building materials and so you know it's been kind of a sleeper on the industrial and food side you know for many many years because of the federal prohibition kind of around the world actually on cannabis in general. But I think we're going to start to see more and more of that part of the industry evolve as well. So from our perspective it's going to touch all of these different spaces and that's going to require different growing production methodologies for each one of those segments. It's going to require different technology D it's going to require different genetics or varieties that serve to those industries. So when we think about it from a high level that's that's what we see happening over the next five 10 15 years. And we see it just scaling incredibly across all of those sectors but then actually I should add recreational too that's the other piece that kind of fits in the cynical realm.
[00:25:37] Yeah but you know just like alcohol and tobacco. This recreational market is also gonna be another huge segment of this which is kind of separate from the other one. So anyway so you add all that up and then you've got it happening around the world. And I think you've got a recipe for a pretty fast industry for quite some time. I mean we've seen a growth rate of about 29 percent sustained for you know a few years now and sometimes it even seems like it's going to increase. So yeah. So you know the future looks really good from that perspective and I think the challenges that you're going to see as it goes down these different paths and segments out across these different spaces is really going to be related to supply chain and you know one of the things that happened early on because of the regulatory environments industry is companies were forced to start out vertically integrated because of the trying to maintain tight regulatory control of the process and so they had to start from they had to get their own seed and clone or the nursery side all the way through they had to grow everything and they had to extract it and then they had to get the products ready and they had to get their products out to customers the dispensaries. And that actually doesn't really exist in other industries. Vertical integration happens at the end of you know or later stages of a company lifecycle not at the very beginning because you know if you're a startup company it's really hard to do all of five good five things that makes it hard and challenging at once. Right. And so that's one of the reasons that we focused our company really laser sharp on to the nursery party industry so that we could really do a great job at that. Yeah. Down the road we might consider other parts of the supply chain but we really think that staying focused on that and as is the regulatory environment evolves in places like Colorado and California and and all the other states and and in different countries.
[00:27:21] It's opening the door for countries to really focus in on their part of supply chain and then work together contractually just like you have in food agriculture literacy articles all of these other industries so that you can actually really do a good job at addressing the supply chain challenges and then scale it up effectively and still maintain quality consumer safety and all the things that really matter in the marketplace. So I think that's really going to be the biggest challenge. And then the last one I think is just setting expectations because this is agriculture.
[00:27:52] And you know people somehow seem to think that you know in six to 12 months you can start a large agricultural operation and it's gonna be successful. The reality is is that plants take years and you know and to get things fine tuned you know they're living things and you know and they're just things that go wrong. Right. If natural disasters even in a even in a controlled environment like an indoor greenhouse you know in California they're seeing wildfires right. Nobody can handle that. And they're even causing problems for intertwined spaces because of the air contamination and things like that. And so you know and then you go all the way to someplace like Colorado where we get crazy freak snowstorms sometimes in the middle of the spring and then we get tornadoes or hail storms and you know these types of things can just wreak havoc when you're growing plants even if you do all the things you can't control the risk factors.
[00:28:41] So I think setting expectations with investors and just across the industry so that everybody's not running so fast that they forget important things which leads to bigger challenges like consumer safety issues and other things because everybody's trying to fix that. So I think that's the other challenge is just just being able to manage expectations and grow as quickly as possible but also maintain safety regulatory compliance and all of the other important issues that consumers care about.
[00:29:09] Yeah I certainly see a lot of conversations happening is around looking at that issue of growth and how do we maintain the kind of reliability and predictability of the supply chain as well as this industry really kind of grows and and how it's going to be segmented which you know which products and which crops are going to develop different supply chains and why and how and you know obviously legislation and legality of things are playing into that as well. So be curious to see what happens over the next couple years.
[00:29:37] In terms of this John this is a great I've learned a lot got early the early part of the holes of my chain is that it was really educational and interesting for me.
[00:29:48] I appreciate the time. Thank you for being on the program.
[00:29:51] Yeah you're very welcome. It's a pleasure to talk with you. I'd be happy to join again sometime if you need it. Thank you. It's been fun.
[00:29:59] If people want to get a hold of you learn more about front range.
[00:30:02] What's the best way to find out more information.
[00:30:04] Yeah certainly our Web site is is the easiest. W w w dot in front range bio dot com you can also email us at. You can email me directly if you like. Jay Vaught the a huge h t at front range Viacom and.
[00:30:21] Yeah we have a website and query forums on our website and so that's certainly the easiest way to inquire about things like availability of our nursery and what we do with things like that.
[00:30:33] Perfect. I'll make sure that those are in the show not so people can click through and get a hold of you and find out more. It was really a pleasure. Thanks again for being on my show. Appreciate it.
[00:30:42] Yeah likewise. Thank you. You've been listening to thinking outside the bud with business coach Bruce felt to find a full list of podcast episodes.
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