As Front Range Biosciences celebrates its third anniversary as a company on Aug. 15, the Lafayette, Colo.-based hemp genomics business is making space for its latest targeted acquisition: the entire R&D team at Steep Hill, led by Reggie Gaudino.
This “collaborative licensing agreement” builds off everything that Front Range has been doing for the past three years. In the summer of 2018, CEO Jon Vaught announced its Clean Stock nursery program, the bedrock of its operations and an example of how tissue culture is being used to clean, store, mass-produce and certify cannabis chemovars.
Most of Front Range’s cannabis work has involved hemp, the legal counterpart to “cannabis” that includes no more than 0.3-percent THC content. With Gaudino and Co. onboard, Vaught says that Front Range is positioned to rapidly capitalize on genomics expertise and marker-assisted breeding.
“They’re one of the first and most experienced teams in terms of cannabis genomics,” Vaught says, comparing Steep Hill’s five-year track record to university research programs that may only just now be getting into the genomics game. “It’s like anything else – if you’ve got experience in something, you’re going to be much more efficient, much more prepared to move things forward quickly. Their experience is really key to helping us round out what we’re doing in our program and accelerate it.”
What Front Range is doing in its program is, put simply, a lot. The company has acquired greenhouse space in multiple states and leased a large indoor hemp R&D facility in Colorado. Earlier this year, Front Range shipped “close to 2 million plants” in a two-month window, Vaught says, part of the company’s Clean Stock nursery development.
In March, Front Range partnered with the Barcelona-based Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG) to further push the bounds of its marker development and phenotyping work. The company acquired unique cannabis germplasm “from all over the world,” Vaught says, with an eye toward growing international hemp markets.
“Between Barcelona and what we have in Colorado, we’ve got lots of good things going on in the breeding program,” he says. “We’re making an incredible amount of progress there. We’re building up a very large genomics resource database for our marker-assisted breeding program and platform. We’ve got field trials going on in several different regions throughout the U.S. this year, to look at regional climate performance—in terms of daylight length, soil types. Obviously, the Southeast is very different from the Southwest. [We’re] looking at these regional climate differences and how they affect some of the varieties in our breeding program.”
And as talk in the cannabis industry turns toward intellectual property protection and patent law—and what that means for growers of all stripes—Vaught says IP security is just one cog in the Front Range strategy.
“Most important is building the underlying platform, and … we’ve pulled together a few different pieces for the foundation of the breeding program,” Vaught says. “Now the goal is to tie all of that together—plus leveraging some of the intellectual property that we’re in-licensing from Steep Hill, some of their know-how that they’ve built in this space. With the team, tying all of those pieces together so that in the next six to 12 months we have the world’s biggest, most comprehensive genomics-driven breeding platform. That’s the goal with respect to intellectual property.”