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There’s nothing like first-hand experience for shaping a business idea.
The concept for Lebanon-based Control LTD emerged as cofounders Seth Pheng and Patricia Smith were working at the former Herbology (now Curaleaf) in downtown Lebanon.
Pheng was a pharmacist at the dispensary, Smith was a patient consultant. Today, Pheng is president and CEO of the company, while Smith is vice president of operations.
“As we were working with medical cannabis patients, we started to see a trend of people that were coming in for true medical purposes, and that some of the things were inconsistent as far as dosing goes,” Pheng said.
Pheng said there were a lot more variables in the use of medical marijuana than the pharmaceuticals to which he was accustomed.
Many of these experiences centered around Rick Simpson Oil (RSO), a type of highly-concentrated edible marijuana distillate that’s considered to be one of the most beneficial products for medical users due to its longer-lasting effects compared to inhaled marijuana. This form of cannabis is easy to use – RSO comes packaged in a syringe and can be ingested directly – but Pheng said that there are so many subtle variables with RSO that consistent dosing was very hard to achieve.
Pheng said that even after researching methods of consistently dispensing higher concentration marijuana products, he came up short. Even looking into what California – home to the country’s oldest medical marijuana industry – was doing, he ended up thinking “it was the Wild West out there.”
Those experiences were shared at Herbology by Smith.
One customer came in, Smith said, and told her about a purchase of RSO that ended up being “awful” and that she had ended up in the emergency room. Smith said that after the patient was thoroughly educated on its use, the patient found the therapeutic relief she was seeking. Smith said this experience was common working at the dispensary.
“As we started talking, we thought this would be a good thing to work on,” said Pheng.
The problem, as they saw it, was making it easy and simple for patients to consistently dose out RSO based on recommendations from their medical providers.
Pheng enlisted his cousin Sophornarak Horn to join the project as vice president for research and development – Horn’s background being in mechanical engineering and healthcare management.
RSO is sold and dispensed through medical syringes, which Horn said are the bridges that connect everything together in the treatment lifecycle. Horn said that the normal listing on a package is a half or full grain of rice, but that measure will be different depending on who’s reading it. By replacing the loose measurement typical of using RSO with a more calibrated approach, Horn said that Control LTD would be making that bridge more effective for engagement between physicians, users, and manufacturers.
“The first question a doctor asks you (after prescribing a specific dose) is, how’s the medication working for you?,” said Horn.
The specific form this innovation takes is a small device which can be added to a syringe making it easier to dispense a specific amount of RSO. This device can be retrofitted onto a syringe from any manufacturer and can be dialed into .05ml or .025ml doses.
Typically, RSO is dispensed by patients based on eyeball measurements.
“When you look at the concentration and what’s being dispensed out, it was just amazing that there wasn’t anything that could offer a more standardized and specific way to dose it,” said Pheng.
Originally, the team envisioned a more sophisticated device that could be provide visual and audible feedback about dosing amount, but after researching the market further, they honed in on a minimalistic approach that works with existing syringes, and could be bundled in the future with products as they are sold by medical marijuana manufacturers. Pheng said the cannabis industry is huge and growing, but still very price conscious.
“It’s really tied into the needs of the customer,” said Horn. “Everything we’ve developed is focused on safe and consistent dosing, and providing the resources necessary to do it.”
Horn said that the team has come up with a “healthy dosing ecosystem” approach that includes education, preparatory tools, and the dispensing device. The preparatory tool is another aftermarket device that can be installed on a syringe, making it easy to warm the RSO on a mug (perhaps as part of a patient’s morning coffee routine, for instance). RSO is a highly viscous liquid which flows more easily when warmed.
“One of the root causes of over pushing and over medicating is the user’s inability to easily warm up the RSO so it’s easier to push out,” said Horn. “The normal recommendation is to run it under hot water for a few minutes, but as we know, when you tell a user they need to do something and it’s inconvenient for them, they typically don’t comply with that recommendation.”
Horn said that the team wanted to give users the ability to warm their RSO without impacting their daily routine.
“We want to give control back to the users,” said Horn. “It’s the medical marijuana industry so we want to make sure that we grab hold of the best practices of the medical side and apply those theories and best practices to the marijuana industry.”
Pheng said that the introduction of consistent, precise dosing will make it far easier to get patients exactly what they need – the dosing that will be most beneficial to them.
“It’s important to recognize that cannabis as a medicine itself is very personal,” said Pheng. “Meaning that the amount I may use as a patient isn’t the same amount that you or someone else would use to get that same therapeutic effect.”
“We’re trying to get the patients to be able to discover what works best for them,” said Pheng. “With all the products that come out having different potencies and different processes of being made, it really leaves a lot of open space to get the patients what they need.”
Because RSO can be sold in different percentages of THC, which can vary from brand to brand or even batch to batch, Control LTD is also trying to help make it easier for patients to arrive at consistent dosing milligrams through an online calculator that helps patients understand how many milligrams of THC are contained in a 0.05ml or 0.025ml dose.
Right now, the team is working on getting the product into test markets by the end of the year. They expect to have a final product by October of this year, and are currently exploring overseas manufacturing facilities due to the extreme price sensitivity of the industry.
They hope to manufacture domestically in the future, due to the increased control over the process.
The company plans to sell both the retrofit kits and pre-assembled syringe and retrofit combos to manufacturers. “We eventually want to have it be one whole piece, but we can still piecemeal it,” said Pheng.
The company is also exploring other routes of ingestion, such as tinctures and inhalation.
“The core basis is really understanding what you take, and being able to address the dosing concerns,” said Horn. “All the products we develop are tied into that – being able to do it safely and effectively are key descriptors of the design philosophy.
“It’s a new market, it’s a new industry. Things are changing rapidly but one constant that we see is the need for a consistent dosing method.”
The company has been working with Lancaster-Lebanon SCORE, an experience they said provided good mentorship. They also recently participated in Ben Franklin’s TechCelerator, held in State College, and said that program was “phenomenal.”
“I keep telling people people I would recommend it to any startup,” said Pheng. “The amount of business knowledge they provided within that course accelerated the proces for us.
“It really helped us narrow down what we needed to do and accomplish.”
The team also won a $10,000 cash prize at the end of the accelerator program when their concept was ranked first by a team of independent judges in a pitch competition.
“I think what’s cool about this – the syringe that we’re offering, the healthy dosing system that we’re able to provide – is that we’re able to help people,” said Pheng. “I think that’s really cool.
“Beyond the business, if we’re able to help one person, that person enjoys life more. Those who have to associate with them, you’re also impacting their lives. One of the reasons I left my job is that ability to say he we can help hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of lives be better.”
“That’s one of the reasons we started the company,” said Smith. “We knew that this would help a lot of people.”
The company is based out of the Wallace House office building on Cumberland Street, and there are no plans to move.
“We’re all local to the area and we love the area, and that’s why we stayed here,” said Pheng.
Pheng said that Lebanon has a lot of untapped resources and untapped skills that are available, plus offers easy access to the big cities.
“We’re really happy about being able to do this in Lebanon,” said Pheng. “It really show cases that anything is possible here.”
For more information about Control LTD, visit their website at ControlLTD.com.
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