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Californian Lab Secures $22 Million for New Vape Testing

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Sep 30, 2019   
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Cannalysis, a state-licensed cannabis testing facility in California, has raised $22.6 million to fund new lab testing technologies, including a test for vaping additives.

While initially sought to finance new automated testing systems and the lab’s multi-state expansion plans, the $22.6 million will now also help develop a test for vitamin E acetate, the compound linked to a number of high-profile cases of vaping-related illnesses. 

Cannalysis introduces new vape product testing method

“We were getting a lot of phone calls from people interested in the vitamin E acetate issue. We don’t even know if this is the culprit [behind the vape illness] yet, but we reacted very quickly to it because people were concerned,” Dr Swetha Kaul, the chief scientific officer at Cannalysis, explained to Analytical Cannabis.

Vitamin E acetate came under fire earlier this month when the additive was linked to a number of high-profile cases of vaping-related illness. More than 500 cases are currently being investigated by American authorities, with the mystery lung disease now thought to be responsible for the deaths of nine e-cigarette users in the US.

In latest update from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health officials state that they have been unable to identify the specific cause of the lung injuries seen so far. However, the New York State Department of Health has confirmed that vitamin E acetate is considered the key focus of its own state investigation, after lab testing revealed high levels of the compound in nearly all samples sent for testing by the department.

“In California, we actually have some of the most stringent testing regulations for cannabis,” said Kaul.

We are testing for heavy metals, we are testing for solvents, we are testing for 66 different pesticides, and obviously for cannabinoids, mycotoxins, and all kinds of microbial pathogens. So we have a lot of really cool instrumentation at our disposal that we can adapt for market needs.”

The test developing by Dr Kaul and her team at Cannalysis uses liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) technology to detect and quantify the levels of vitamin E acetate, along with the wider family of vitamin E oils, present in cannabis vape products.

“I think it’s always good practice to look at the parent compound,” Dr Kaul explained. “But what’s interesting is that vitamin E is naturally occurring in cannabis, so we do also see trace amounts of that.”

“We developed a method on LC-MS/MS. I think people can use an LC-UV method as well, but my concern with that was that it might not be sensitive enough. We don’t know what ‘dangerous’ levels are, or what ‘toxic’ levels are, so I think it’s important to have a sensitive test that lets people know what exactly is in there.”


Advancing a technology-forward approach to cannabis science

The money secured in this funding round will also go towards the company’s efforts to build and improve highly automated cannabis testing systems.

“Our purpose-built laboratory features some of the most advanced technologies for testing cannabis and hemp products. By streamlining the process through automating sample preparation, to pushing test data directly to other platforms, including consumer-facing marketplaces, we offer value beyond compliance,” said Brian Lannon, CEO of Cannalysis, in a statement.

“The use of robotics and data-automation has allowed us to reduce human error while providing our customers with sample tracking to follow the test's progress in real-time. Together with CanLab, we hope to introduce a new gold-standard for the cannabis testing industry.” 

Dr Kaul expanded on this further: “we like to say that we’re as much a tech company as we are a lab, because technology is so important to us.”

“We have a director of robotics that has helped us build custom robots for sample testing so that we can reduce manual data entry errors, reduce manual preparation errors. And then we have our CTO and COO, who have worked to create our LIMS system. Our LIMS system is essentially an in-house developed software that allows us to track all our samples from when it comes in, until we send it off to the customer.”

Gary Hopkinson, executive chairman of CanLab, the major investor in this funding round, said in a statement, “Cannalysis has set a new precedent for what the standards for cannabis testing should be with its focus on technology and automation.”

“We look forward to joining forces to help cannabis brands and businesses navigate and pass strict compliance regulations.”

Alexander Beadle

Science Writer

Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds a Master's in Materials Chemistry from the University of St. Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie scholarship, and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.


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