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The Importance of Cannabis Formulations With Dr. Nick Jackowetz

Dr. Nick Jackowetz, the Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer of Cirona talk about the recent trends that are being followed in the cannabis industry and his role in the Cirona Labs.

Dr. Jackowetz is experienced in leading scientific teams in the beverage alcohol and legal cannabis industries. His focus on new product development through intensive research into novel ingredients, flavor, and food processing technologies has helped him to commercialize more than 100 food and beverage products. Dr. Jackowetz specializes in food chemistry, food microbiology, toxicology, industrial food processing, and cannabis science/R&D. He managed the formulation team at Canopy Growth before co-founding Cirona Labs, where he helped design industry-disrupting cannabis-infused beverages for the Canadian market.


Can you tell us the "backstory" about what brought you to the cannabis industry?

I entered the cannabis industry through my R&D/product development role at Constellation Brands in 2018. Constellation had recently invested $4B into Canopy Growth Corporation and they needed someone with technical expertise in food science with a focus on beverage creation. Up to that point, I had little understanding of the cannabis space or cannabis science, for that matter. But from the start, I was immediately transfixed with cannabis science and its potential to help people. There is so much to study right now, it's a very exciting time to be in cannabis R&D and I'm looking forward to advancing the science for patients and researchers.

Explain your role as Chief Science Officer at Cirona Labs.

As the Chief Science Officer, my role is to research, design, and scale our water-soluble cannabis formulations. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to be a part of a company with science at its core. Everything we do at Cirona Labs is based on sound science and backed by data. We strive to be a trusted brand and supplier in the cannabis space. Too often we hear claims in the cannabis space that are blatantly false and our goal is to be transparent with our clients and provide the best guidance we can base on the data. Our approach for the formulation is not "one size fits all". We are aware that we need to formulate our products to match our clients finished product and test them to make sure it meets their specifications for taste, clarity, efficacy, stability, and shelf-life.

Cirona Labs

Image Source- Cirona Labs

Define a good research analyst according to you.

A good research analyst is someone that can take a look at a broad set of scientific data and aggregate it in a way that makes it easily digestible for all audiences.

What trends are you seeing in cannabis in the US?

We are seeing more interest in minor cannabinoids and terpenes in water-soluble formulations. Increasingly our clients are looking to create a "stack" of natural ingredients to drive a mood state (e.g. sleep, energy, focus, etc.). Our job is to create effective and stable formulations to help them realize this goal. I think you'll see a lot more work around the combination of cannabinoids, terpenes, and other natural extracts to drive functionality in the future.

What is a product development cycle for any typical new launch

The product development cycle can vary depending on many factors. For instance, a client who has a simple formulation (e.g. sparkling water with a hint of flavor) may be faster to market compared to someone with a complex formula (e.g. a beverage with multiple cannabinoids, fruit juice, and electrolytes). Also, the size and sophistication of the brand will often dictate the product development cycle. Many large consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies will take years to launch a product whereas smaller startups might be able to commercialize in 6 months.

What are the major differences in product development between cannabis-infused beverages and edibles?

The main differences in product development between cannabis-infused beverages and edibles are the ease of creating a compatible water-soluble ingredient. For cannabis beverages, the water-soluble emulsion is suspended in water and this creates challenges since water is a great intermediate for chemical reactions (e.g. oxidation) and other chemical interactions (e.g. physical emulsion instability). By contrast, an edible typically has much less water and thus fewer chances of interactions that could harm the emulsion. A cannabis beverage also must look appealing and thus you can't select an emulsion that is milky for cannabis-infused sparkling water, for example. Conversely, an edible has lots of other ingredients that can cover up the appearance, making the infusion selection process easier.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

The most challenging part of my job is continuously coming up with new formulations and processes to create ingredients that are compatible with an ever-increasing amount of finished goods. Our head of R&D at Cirona Labs, Dr. Soheil Hajirahimkhan, always says that "formulation never ends". I think this is an important mantra to remember because there are always new techniques and processes that we need to investigate and we can't rest on our laurels, we must continue to innovate and strive to be better.

Could you please elaborate on what is involved in Ingredient stability testing and shelf-life modeling.

At Cirona Labs we take stability and shelf-life testing very seriously. We've seen too many beverages fail to meet their declared cannabinoid levels because water-soluble formulations have been improperly made or selected. To that end, we take our time to come up with hundreds of emulsions (over 800+ to date) and pair a curated list of emulsions with the client's product. We then infuse our emulsions into the client's product and use sophisticated equipment to measure the physical stability (the tendency for the emulsion to cream or separate) in an accelerated manner. From this stability data, we can access how quickly (or slowly) an emulsion particle will move (separate) over time. This is a critical step that most other water-soluble companies do not take, but it is essential. If your emulsion is not physically stable at the beginning, there is nothing you can do downstream in the manufacturing process to remedy the problem.

What sort of consumer research do you do to come up with your next SKU plan?

We look at a variety of literature and media but mostly our new SKUs are driven by our clients who tell us what they want and then it's our job to make it happen.

What are you working on right now?

We are working on lots of things at the moment. One interesting item is that we are about to begin the next round of our pharmacokinetic (PK) studies. These PK studies help us understand the efficacy (bioavailability) of our formulations and are conducted by drawing blood at certain intervals and then testing the cannabinoid levels in blood serum. This study is extremely important because we want to know how quickly our water-soluble ingredients enter the bloodstream (onset time), how quickly they reach their maximum concentration (Tmax), and how quickly they subside (offset time). These PK studies are complex to design and expensive to run but we feel it is imperative that we generate this data. This makes our ingredients better and provides a more predictable and consistent experience for customers who use our products.

Interviewed by Sid Patel, Beverage Trade Network