Making sustainable living affordable is often what drives both large and small brands to innovate. In fact, a variety of studies from leading consulting firms from BCG to Deloitte point to the myriad advantages of following the purpose-sustainability path. Brand impacts include everything from increased employee engagement and reduced turnover to improved operating margins and increased word of mouth.
By utilizing technology to grow medicinal active ingredients BioHarvest is sustainably changing the … [+]
The topic of climate and de-carbonization has become front and center during the pandemic, so I wanted to sit down with Ilan Sobel, CEO of BioHarvest to understand how they will impact the future of farming.
Jeff Fromm: How are you applying technology to reduce water and carbon usage in farming?
Ilan Sobel: BioHarvest’s proprietary Bio-Plant CELLicitation technology allows us to grow key Phyto medicinal active ingredients in their natural structural composition from any type of plant without having to grow the entire plant. We just harvest the plant once and take the critical cells required from the plant, which are needed to grow these important active ingredients.
We grow these cells in large scale industrial bioreactors and create a cell bank of these cells, so we never have to go back to the plant. This means that our products dramatically reduce the amount of land, water, and energy required to produce plant ingredients.
The company’s flagship product, VINIA, is a dietary supplement that contains piceid resveratrol from red grape cells. Over three weeks, one of Bioharvest’s approximately 7’x2’ bioreactors produces the equivalent amount of piceid resveratrol as roughly 20,000 square feet of land (equaling 240,000 square feet annually based on roughly 12 cycles per year).
In December 2021, we announced that we had produced over 10kg of full-spectrum cannabis in industrial bioreactors. Our cannabis is grown in 3-week cycles, as compared to up to 14-23 weeks in indoor greenhouses. It also requires roughly 95% less land than indoor greenhouses and approximately 99% less than traditional agriculture would.
In a recent report published by Nature Sustainability journal, carbon emissions associated with traditional cannabis growth are on par with those from other major extractive industries like coal, oil, and gas. It is estimated that the median emissions for indoor growth are about 3,600 kilograms of CO2 per kilo of cannabis.
By producing these cannabinoids in bioreactors, BioHarvest can dramatically reduce the water and land usage for plant growth. In addition, and unlike traditional cannabis production, our process involves zero heavy metals and zero solvents or fertilizer, so our wastewater is 100% biodegradable.
An average indoor cannabis plant cultivation growth cycle can take 14-23 weeks, which results in about five cycles a year. BioHarvest’s growth cycle takes about 3-4 weeks allowing it to complete nearly 14 cycles annually. This increases growth while using seven times less water, utilizing eight times less electricity, and producing eight times less carbon dioxide per cycle.
The environmental strain that the cannabis industry has created globally can be alleviated by using technology like BioHarvest’s bioreactors to create the highest quality full spectrum cannabis with a significantly lighter environmental impact.
Fromm: How will you scale the new technology to impact health and wellness?
Sobel: Currently, our VINIA product is BioHarvest’s first on the market and has been well received and positively reviewed by over 14,000 global customers. VINIA is providing thousands of customers in Israel and in the USA with significant health and wellness benefits. This was demonstrated in a published clinical trial where VINIA increased dilation of arteries by at least 70% versus baseline after taking one capsule every day for 90 days.
This improvement in dilation significantly increases blood flow through the body, allowing increased oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to the body’s tissues and organs. VINIA users experience many benefits including improved physical energy and mental alertness, maintained blood pressure, reduced oxidation of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and cells are protected from oxidative damage.
The product has been rewarded with a 4.8/5 verified review rating based on over 760 verified reviews from customers. As a result of the success of VINA, BioHarvest recently built a new GMP and ISO certified manufacturing facility in Israel with more than 10 times the capacity of its existing facility. This is allowing BioHarvest to massively scale the product in the USA and enable the introduction of VINIA into other key geographic markets including Canada, China, South Korea, and Japan in 2023.
The company has been focused on scaling VINIA via maintaining a unique value for money proposition with customers able to get the benefits of VINIA for approximately $1 per day when they are on a 3-month or more subscription program. In addition, the company has been heavily focused on marketing efforts by leveraging all e-commerce channels and expanding to TV in August to make its core consumers aware of the uniqueness of the VINIA proposition and its benefits.
The company is constantly exploring ways to use our technology to provide health and wellness alternatives while also creating sustainable solutions. Over the next 18 months, the company is planning to roll out other products including those derived from olive cells, pomegranate cells, and cannabis. The olive cell product will be produced similarly to VINIA and encapsulated. This product will offer the health benefits of olives and olive oil without the fat or calories and is designed to support cholesterol management in the way that the mediterranean diet delivers without calories. The company’s pomegranate cell based product will extract the key ingredients and antioxidants from the pomegranate fruit to support anti-inflammatory and cognitive benefits without sugar or calories, and our cannabis product will feature a novel ‘full spectrum’ composition of both minor and major cannabinoids with unique cannabinoid ratios and levels of consistency and cleanliness that the market has never seen before.
Fromm: What ideas can other CEOs take from the successful launch of VINIA as a sustainable brand?
Sobel: We at BioHarvest are a purpose-driven company. Via our breakthrough VINIA solution, we deliver on the intersection of three major industry trends that many CEOs are grappling with: health and wellness, technology, and sustainability. BioHarvest has been focused for 15 years to be able to deliver on these trends and leverage the power of its Bio-Plant CELLicitation technology platform to drive a transformational positive change in consumers’ overall health and wellness. More importantly, we’re able to do this in a way which ensures we are leaving the planet in a better place for our children and grandchildren. Sustainability is at the core of our technology and as a purpose-driven company, every major decision is made through a sustainability lens. This requires discipline and commitment and is best demonstrated by our scouring of the world for 18 months to find the best equipment to use for drying our red grape cells from both a quality and a sustainability perspective. The company identified a breakthrough drying technology from a German Company (Puschner), which is able to optimize the quality of the product while utilizing six times less water and electricity. The company recently made a significant investment to purchase this equipment and will take delivery of this new equipment by Q2 of 2023.
As a CEO, I believe that it is our responsibility to strategically build better practices that support innovation with thoughtful sustainability measures. I realize that most CEOs are managing businesses that do not share our intrinsic sustainability advantages, but every CEO must commit to making sustainability a core priority in their business and ensure that a sustainability lens is used when making any business decision. I proudly state that ‘Sustainability is in our DNA,’ and I know that this resonates with people within our community, who realize that it is more important than ever to be cognizant about what each of us can do to protect the environment and our valuable natural resources every day.
Fromm: How can this technology upend the way we harvest nutrients and pharmaceuticals?
Sobel: Today, we are facing a massive crisis around mental health challenges and pain management (think opioid crisis). Pharma companies to date are lagging in delivering optimal solutions for patients suffering from medical indications in these areas with their current toolbox of synthesized compounds. It’s time for Pharma companies to go back to their roots, and that means going back to the plant.
Our Bio-Plant CELLicitation technology platform allows us to take the essential active medicinal compounds found in a specific targeted plant and grow them in plant-cells in a way that also has the ability to increase key active ingredients. Such plant-derived ingredients include polyphenols, cannabinoids, micronutrients, and others that naturally occur in plants and help us heal, making them even more present and potent than what you’d find in the original plant. We can consistently grow in aseptic bioreactors an infinite supply of the critical active ingredients from identified plants while optimizing each one to deliver the maximum benefit with which nature, in its infinite wisdom, endowed it. What’s even better for the Pharma world is that these unique compositions of active compounds can be patented using our technology, so Pharma can protect and monetize these technical breakthroughs.
Plant-based medicine using our technology, then, offers a path forward that’s not only innovative, lucrative, and impactful, but also one that can help a segment of the pharmaceutical industry redeem itself by rededicating itself to its original mission of using science to find new ways to heal and help mankind.
The scientific community agrees, by the way. In a recent response to the opioid crisis in North America, the Stanford-Lancet Commission stated that innovations in biomedical research for pain relief and opioid use disorder are ‘urgently needed in response to the opioid crisis.’
We already have all the technology we need to extract life-changing medicine from cannabis, pomegranates, red grapes, and olives, to name only four of many plants. If Pharma companies want to continue its path to redemption and enjoy decades more of economic growth without the moral stain that comes from leaving scores of its users dead or addiction-addled, it must ease up its reliance on synthetics and quite literally go back to its plant-based roots.