Cannabis Interview: Milan Patel – CEO of PathogenDx – Keeping Cannabis Safe

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Pathogens… Just the word causes fear among anyone who knows what they are. And in short, they’re something we all want to avoid. We recently got the chance to talk with Milan Patel, Co-founder and CEO of PathogenDx, a Scottsdale, AZ based company which has developed a disruptive technology: DNA-based testing for cannabis as well as other industries.

Check out the interview below to learn more about this technology and what it means for cannabis growers and consumers.

CM: What is PathogenDx – in one sentence, and then in depth? What is the technology in play here?

Patel: In one sentence, PathogenDx is an Arizona biotechnology company that has developed a disruptive DNA-based technology to test for multiple pathogens (bacterial and fungal organisms that cause contamination) in a fraction of the time, cost and labor to ensure cannabis, hemp, food, ag, and water is safe for consumption.

The world is filled with harmful pathogens that increasingly threaten the safety of our cannabis, hemp, food and water supply. And yet, testing labs still rely on the Petri dishes scientists invented over a century ago. At PathogenDx, microbial testing has now been brought into the modern age. The company’s patent-winning scientists have invented a game-changing DNA-based microarray technology (see image below) that accelerates the testing identification and quantification of microbes (from E-coli to powdery mildew)—delivering accurate results in just six hours without the need for enrichment or DNA purification. The company entered the Cannabis market to demonstrate the power of the Ultra-rapid DNA microarray to prove the capability of delivering the fastest microbial test in the cannabis sector while meeting the safety testing regulations.

CM: The major tool in testing has always been the Petri dish – why change that now? How does DNA come into play?

Patel: The Petri dish has been around for 140 years. However, testing results take quite long because with a Petri dish, you have to take a sample, enrich any bacterial or fungal organisms in that sample, streak it on an agar culture and wait for the cells of the bacterial or fungal pathogens to grow before you get a result. This can take anywhere from 3 days up to 7 days. When you have a lot of samples coming into a lab, it can be very unwieldy.

Why change now? – The supply chain of cannabis, hemp, food, agriculture and water is more efficient now, and with the product moving through the supply chain much faster to the end customer, the risk is higher because a potential contaminated food is likely to get consumed before results are obtained from petri dish testing. This is evident by the continued increases in food borne outbreaks in the last 2-3 decades, and recent examples are the food borne outbreaks at Chipotle and the Romaine lettuce incident. Basically a 19th century solution cannot meet the needs and demands of these markets, and a 21st century solution is needed whereby results are delivered faster before contaminated end product gets consumed.

How does DNA come into play? – DNA comes into play because the methodology by which the process works is different in that it is a targeted approach: you do not have to wait for the actual pathogen cells to grow, you are able to identify that the product is contaminated at the molecular level, and you can get a result in hours.

CM: What are the biggest threats facing farmers and their cannabis/hemp crops right now?

Patel: The biggest threats facing farmers and their cannabis/hemp crops is continual contamination within grows with a high level of presence of both bacterial and fungal microbes in the end sample. In addition, we are starting to see increased presence of viruses – especially for hemp farmers – which is wreaking havoc as petri dish testing cannot test for viruses. This results in catastrophic losses both from an economic standpoint, as well as yield perspective.

CM: Even though PathogenDx was developed for hemp and cannabis, you say it can be used to test other agricultural crops, water, even meat and dairy areas. Will the same test and procedure be used for different things; what else does PathogenDx need to do to enter the Food and Dairy sphere?

Patel: We have made the technology universally applicable to multiple markets as well as ubiquitous, in that at the base level, it is one process. Whether you are testing cannabis, romaine, milk, water or anything else, the process is effectively the same. The content of the kits are mostly the same, but sometimes enhanced with different bacterial or fungal organisms that are specific to that industry.

PathogenDx is currently submitting the use of the technology as a certified method to the AOAC for food and environmental testing at the federal level. We expect to have certification by mid-2020, and once that happens, PathogenDx will have access to a $30B market. In addition, we are developing a test that can test up to 20 pathogens that are currently causing quality issues in the milk and dairy industry. We plan to introduce a product in 2020 for this market.

CM: What’s next for PathogenDx in 2020? Where else do you see application of this technology?

Patel: We are expanding the applications of the technology into the Food, Environmental, Dairy markets, as well as introducing a plant pathogen kit that will broaden the testing capability in cannabis, hemp and Agriculture. The technology has potential into the much larger clinical diagnostics with a multitude of clinical applications. At the present time, the company is working with several collaborators to evaluate key market applications.

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