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Building the Industry Together: An Interview with Chris Chappie and Dr. Matthew Hoffman

A little over a month ago, myself and a few other members of the Vanguard team had the opportunity to attend the 2021 CWCB Expo in New York City at the Javits Center. It was great to be back in person with our industry peers and we all had a great time reconnecting on the show floor. Of those peers that I had the opportunity to reconnect with, was none other than long time partner and client of Vanguard, Dr. Matthew Hoffman.

Dr. Matthew Hoffman
Dr. Matthew Hoffman

Dr. Hoffman is a well known figure in the Boston area and has a background in molecular cell biology. He pursued a postdoc at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute doing muscle regenerative biology before transitioning to the biotech industry in Cambridge. It was there where he worked for a company called IMDX, which was focused on molecular diagnostics and 510K medical device clearance. During his time there he assisted in developing qPCR molecular diagnostics platforms for microbes from clinical samples, like blood, urine, etc. That company was sold and he used that as an opportunity to move back into academia, and academic science. He moved to Northeastern for a junior faculty position in the Center for Drug Discovery where he had the opportunity to work with a scientist named Alexandros Makriyannis, who runs one of the bigger cannabinoid research programs in the country.


Through osmosis and some collaborations with faculty in the department, Dr. Hoffman's interest in the application for Cannabinoids as medicine started to sprout up. From there, he decided to take his background in science and start applying that to the burgeoning cannabis industry in Massachusetts as a consultant in 2015. Over the past six years Dr. Hoffman has played an integral role in helping numerous Cannabis companies in various states like Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maryland, just to name a few, successfully win licensing, commission equipment, and build compliant facilities. Through his work with those clients, Dr. Hoffman has on numerous occasions engaged Vanguard’s services to ensure that none of his clients needs go unmet.


So, when our paths crossed again in New York, Dr. Hoffman was kind enough to take some time to sit down with me for a brief interview about what he is currently working on in the industry, his experience working alongside Vanguard as a consultant and his thoughts on where the industry as a whole is heading in the not so distant future.


I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did!


Chris Chappie

VP Systems Integration

 


 

Note: the above interview has been edited for clarity and length. A written transcript of the video is available for reading below.

 

Chris Chappie

I really appreciate this. I want to give you some space to talk about your current project with Boterra and what your role is, and what excites you most about what you're doing with them?


Dr. Hoffman

So, GTE, Green Tech Enterprises with Boterra were clients of mine going back to 2018 based in Massachusetts. They've opened up a position for me so I've brought my consulting in house to GTE Boterra where we are designing a 70,000 square foot ground up cultivation and manufacturing facility that will be compliant with GMP, cGMP, GACP, etc. We're designing the building around those compliance parameters, and will have those reporting systems in place from the get go. So, the opportunity to build a facility is something that I've always talked about and is really a dream come true.


Chris Chappie

Could you explain, in your words on the receiving side. How Vanguard is assisting in this?


"We'll have the full suite of services that are provided by Vanguard on site there at our facility"

Dr. Hoffman

Vanguard is instrumental in helping to design and supply equipment for the entire lab, from extraction to refinement, to the quality lab itself in terms of product testing and diagnostics. So, we'll have the full suite of services that are provided by Vanguard on site there at our facility. We'll be working side by side with Vanguard to onboard subject matter experts, extraction professionals and personnel who we will then put through the Vanguard training program. We will also have you help us on site when it comes to installing the equipment, commissioning the equipment and ensuring that our SOPs are in place. So, really this is probably an opportunity for Vanguard to showcase their full potential in the Northeast market and I'm looking forward to working on that opportunity together.


Chris Chappie

Your last comment brings me to the next question that I had for you, which is what factors led you to initially consulting with Vanguard, and what value propositions do you see in a company like Vanguard for you as a consultant?


"It was a hard battle in Maryland, but it looks like they’re gonna win that and thanks to Vanguard for really kind of bringing that package in to help them out"

Dr. Hoffman

I think it's as a consultant but also, what can we bring to the industry and to clients by working together. It's been very multifaceted. As a consultant I've actually stood behind a lot of companies and helped them to get licensing. So, those wins have been very exciting. As an example I had a client in Maryland, where Vanguard was instrumental in helping to secure a processing license that was for an 80% woman and minority owned business. It was a hard battle in Maryland, but it looks like they’re gonna win that and thanks to Vanguard for really kind of bringing that package in to help them out.


"I don't know anyone who's in the equipment supply and procurement side of this business, who's that heavily involved with clients early on"

We've also worked with clients in New Jersey, and Massachusetts, and I don't know anyone who's in the equipment supply and procurement side of this business, who's that heavily involved with clients early on. I found out about Vanguard through a group that I was working with in Massachusetts. I was able to see the technology firsthand and was very impressed with MIDAS system. That branched into me contacting you and other members of the team. From there we started to develop relationships, that kind of led us to say, “Hey, listen, we're reaching across this desert, and we're speaking the common language.” We're speaking this language of cGMP. We understand what LIMS means (Integrated Management Systems for Laboratories). Those sorts of things that exist in biotech and pharma that we want to start applying to the industry was something that I think is of mutual interest to both of us and something that the market is demanding now and will be demanding more in the future.


Chris Chappie

From your experience working with Vanguard specifically, what are some of the highest value propositions that benefit you as a consultant?


Dr. Hoffman

Vanguard brings not just equipment but also the expertise. You know, you’re able walk in the door and help work on things like process piping, fire code, compliance, and then from there once the equipment's installed, helping to review and create SOPs, helping to do on job training, commissioning of equipment, helping clients to achieve their KPIs, And through integration of basic, all the management systems all the way to electronic batch record records. To ensure repeatability and reduced to no failure rates.


Chris Chappie

Well, thank you. I can't tell you how satisfying it is to hear that on the client side, the things that we brainstorm about that we imagine will be needed in the industry and that we work hard to present to people right so thank you for that.


Dr. Hoffman

Well, people are buying into it. So, they're seeing those results. They're seeing the real risks posed by not having these systems in place, and are more readily adopting this approach.


Chris Chappie

I've heard both an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But in a more specific way, $3 of prevention prevents $10 of loss.


"It's better to take the time and attention to really build the facilities correctly, to put the quality management systems in place, to have compliance and oversight from the get go to ensure that you achieve your KPI's"

Dr. Hoffman

Exactly, That's what the talk today that Brian Anderson, David Vaillencourt and Matt Anderson were really driving home. It's better to take the time and attention to really build the facilities correctly, to put the quality management systems in place, to have compliance and oversight from the get go to ensure that you achieve your KPI's. That way you achieve maximum efficiency in your operations, as well as reduced to no failure rates whatsoever. So that's the goal.


Chris Chappie

As you've moved in from biopharma, and you've seen this market, you have kind of an objective set of eyes and a unique perspective. What are the interesting things that you've seen about our market and where do you kind of see the cannabis market heading?


Dr. Hoffman

I think we can anticipate the arrival of FDA involvement at some point in time, and we should all be getting ready for that. I think we look at the five year plan going forward, you know, where is this headed? Again, let's look at other mature industries and where those industries are in terms of their technology, and start thinking about how we can apply that to cannabis. Things like automation, robotics, automated reporting systems, buildings that are run on machine learning and artificial intelligence. I think that that is the future, and I think that because other companies in horticulture are doing that as we speak. All of this will tie together so when we have the control systems in the buildings talking to the reporting systems and QMS, there's going to be that feedback loop. Right now they're kind of separated and I think in the future, those will all be part of one cohesive program.


Chris Chappie

In conclusion here, can you offer what your thoughts are on the future of the industry as a whole? And then what are some of the things you think might be the most exciting things to look forward to two years from now and five years from now?


"Hopefully we'll see some relaxation on 280E and on our ability to do in house research, even at the state legal cannabis level"

Dr. Hoffman

Well, we've touched on the AI robotics automation piece. So, I think that's definitely coming. Beyond that I think there are a variety of perspectives. One is that I hope more research will open up. Hopefully we'll see some relaxation on 280E and on our ability to do in house research, even at the state legal cannabis level. That's certainly an interest of mine, to continue to do plant biology and push the limits of what we're doing now with plant genetics. Let's remember that, when we think of GMO, we think of that that's a very bad term. But there are ways of doing sort of what we call reverse genetics and plants. What we typically do is for genetics, we're just breeding males and females creating seeds and going from there. There are ways to speed up that process using genes native to the plant, which can assist in preventing the spread of disease, which can assist in producing specific medicinal compounds of interest and let's not forget that this plant has over 150 compounds, many of which have medicinal application. So there's companies like Flavocure out there that have a specific cannabis derived flavonoid that are in clinical trials now. Those trials are showing very promising results to help treat metastatic prostate cancer; and that's just one case. So, I think you'll see more and more of that happening. I think the more that we can actually free up research on this, the more promising medicinal applications will come of that. So, that's my hope for the future. I think we'll see, for better or worse, I think Pharma is going to be playing a big role, Big Tobacco will play a big role. And really figuring out how we're going to marry the industry as it is today with those industries is, I think, some of the work for the next five years.


Chris Chappie

Thank you, Dr. Hoffman, absolute pleasure having you on and Vanguard looks forward to working with Boterra on that project and future projects that you have going on.


Dr. Hoffman

Okay. Wonderful, same here.