The 2020 ElSohly Award Winners: Dr. Markus Roggen

April 28, 2020

Dr. Markus Roggen’s latest project, Complex Biotech Discovery Ventures, is a fundamental research laboratory and CRO for the cannabis and hemp industries. His research interests lie in the metabolite composition and behavior throughout the production cycle, extraction optimization, and development of innovative therapeutic formulations. Dr. Roggen received his M/Sci degree from Imperial College, London, UK in 2008. He then pursued his graduate degree in organic chemistry at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETHZ), where he received his PhD in 2012. Dr. Roggen was awarded an DAAD postdoctoral fellowship to pursue further training in physical organic chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California from 2013–2014. He then entered the cannabis industry, at first as laboratory director for Davinci Laboratories of California, an analytical laboratory from 2014 to 2016. In 2016, he moved into an executive position overseeing production, R&D and process optimization for OutCo, a vertically integrated cannabis company. Dr. Roggen is also a trusted advisor and mentor to multiple startups, startup accelerators, and organizations. Positions include advisory positions at MediPharm Labs, a Canadian LP, Bloom Automation, a cannabis robotics company, and former co-chair of the NCIA Scientific Advisory Committee. Here he discusses some of his research and what we can expect from his presentation on May 6.

What will your talk at the CANN symposium focus on?
Dr. Markus Roggen:
As this CANN symposium is in recognition of the ElSohly award, my presentation will aim to validate this honor bestowed up on me. I will present a broad overview of the research in our laboratory at Complex Biotech Discovery Ventures. A large part of our current efforts is data analytics of cannabis extraction and the development of a predictive algorithm for extraction optimization. Although, I will also report on our continued quest to understand molecular changes in cannabis processing steps.

What do you hope attendees at the symposium will take away from your talk?
There is still so much to do, and that we need help from every scientist in the field.

How will winning the ElSohly Award impact your research efforts or future projects?
With the ever-growing recognition and prestige of the ElSohly Award, I hope that other scientists will see the value in cannabis research and join in.

How did you get started with cannabis research?
After I finished my post-doc in California, I serendipitously ended up directing a cannabis testing laboratory. In that role, I quickly realized that little is known about cannabis analytics. In my next role as VP of extraction, again I had to grapple with the lack of fundamental cannabis chemistry.

So, it was out of necessity that I would do cannabis research, building analytical methods, identifying unknown compounds, using chemometrics to optimize extraction. After over four years of this struggle, I decided it was time to exclusively focus on research. This is why I founded Complex Biotech Discovery Ventures.

What has surprised you most in your cannabis research with metabolite composition and behavior throughout the production cycle, extraction optimization, and development of innovative therapeutic formulations?
That the cannabis ecosystem—producers, regulators, and end consumers—only cares about a handful of cannabinoids, terpenes, and pesticides. But all those compounds together make up maybe 30 wt.% of the dried plant and around 80 wt.% of concentrates. There is so much empty space on a pie-chart of a testing report, and no one seems to care. With potentially hundreds of beneficial compounds still undiscovered in the plant and dozens of unknown decomposition products from the processing steps, we have a lot of catching up to do if we ever want to rival the pharmaceutical industry.

Can you tell us more about your current research involving cannabis and what you hope to study in the future?
Complex Biotech Discovery Ventures, my company in Vancouver, BC, is a research laboratory for fundamental cannabis chemistry. Therefore, we have a range of research projects going on in parallel. For example, right now we are working on data analytics for extraction optimization, building chemical data bases for cannabis analytics and formulation, developing solvent systems for cannabinoid crystallization and we’re hunting unknown compounds.

In extraction data analytics we are working with data sets of thousands of extraction runs to understand the effects that various factors have on the extraction outcome such as temperature, pressure, cannabinoid concentration, water content, extractor model, and many more. From this we are developing algorithms that can predict better extraction conditions to produce a specific desired outcome.

Another example is our work on cannabinoid crystallization. We were the first lab to produce and present the metastable zone of CBD crystallization in petroleum ether. This information is crucial for efficient CBD crystallization. But we also learned from the data that petroleum ether, even as it is the common solvent in the industry, is a bad choice for the task. Therefore, we are now working on better solvent systems for cannabinoid crystallization.

Dr. Roggen will be presenting his talk “Collaborative Research for Fundamental Insight into Cannabis Production” during the Spring 2020 CANN Virtual Symposium in The Second Annual ElSohly Award session on Wednesday, May 6.

Register for free here: