How PuroGen’s revolutionary organic tech is producing better flower while killing pathogens
Years ago, while watching television one night, PuroGen CEO Alan Novotny saw a story about an AIDS patient in California who died after consuming cannabis that had been tainted with mold. With the legal cannabis industry just beginning to bloom in the United States, Novotny recognized a critical crossover between cannabis and his previous career in the healthcare industry: the need for effective, yet delicate sterilization.
He began experimenting with ways to sterilize cannabis flower that would kill molds or microbial contamination without damaging the important chemical properties of the plant, such as the terpenes, THC and cannabinoids. Novotny and his staff at PuroGen developed what they would eventually call TheBOX, a patented, vacuum-induced sterilization technology using an organic, proprietary reagent called reactive oxygen. Not only does TheBOX destroy the DNA of hazardous pathogens, but in Novotny’s experience, growers actually observe a brightening of their terpene profiles.
“It’s the only sterilization methodology that will actually improve your flower,” he says. “If I owned a grow, I would run everything through TheBOX just because I’d want the best product possible. It makes cannabis smell better and taste better, and I’m going to pass more tests — why wouldn’t I?”
The company has already sold about 60 machines to commercial cannabis producers across the world and is well-positioned to serve a rapidly growing clientele with the prospect of federal legalization in the United States somewhere on the horizon.
“Our target market ranges from craft to commercial and industrial growers that are really trying to grow high quality cannabis,” Novotny says. “They frequently have GMP processes in place and just want an insurance policy. They’ve got a great program, but they want to make sure they’re gonna pass their microbial tests. And that’s where we can help.”
An Insurance Policy
Once PuroGen had developed the basic parameters of TheBOX, it took about two years to get the machines dialed in to where they were highly effective at killing mold without being detrimental to the critical chemical makeup of each cannabis batch.
“I always said in health care that it doesn’t matter how sterile it is; if you can’t use it, it’s useless,” Novotny says. “It’s the same with cannabis. It doesn’t matter how clean it is, if the taste, look or feel is compromised, a customer does not want it.”
Novotny and his team discovered the machines hit their “sweet spot” with a capacity to reduce colony-forming units by about 500,000 per cycle.
Cultivators can run a single batch through TheBOX for multiple cycles for unusually high CFU loads, but of course there are upper limits with any technology. Novotny says he’s seen growers with product testing as high as 200 million CFUs — “We like to say, TheBOX works magic, but not miracles. At that CFU level you’re really asking to turn mold into cannabis,” he says — and that is not how the company recommends to successfully utilize TheBOX. For best practices, Novotny suggests that growers should run every crop through TheBOX as a “kill-step,” because as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
“When the FDA gets involved in this business, that’s what’s going to be required,” Novotny says. “A top-tier grower is going to prophylactically run everything, so everything is homogenized.”
It’s also critical because a small microbial problem when a crop is freshly harvested can turn into a major microbial problem during processing, storage and packaging. With any lab test, the results are just a “snapshot” of the entire batch. One bud could test at 5,000 CFUs, while another bud from the same batch could test at 50,000 CFUs — or even substantially higher.
“If your failing threshold is 10,000 CFUs and you passed at 9,000, you’d better be worried,” Novotny says, “because that growth does not stop eating, it does not stop growing.”
There is more than one way to get an ROI with TheBOX. Although its proficiency at sterilization is the main draw for most growers, TheBOX has two additional features that make it a valuable multipurpose tool for commercial producers.
In addition to sterilizing cannabis flower, TheBOX can rehydrate cannabis to optimize moisture levels and keep buds at peak freshness. Furthermore, TheBOX can also infuse cannabis flower and or pre-rolls with additional terpenes. For example, a grower can take a Lemon Haze strain and infuse it with additional limonene, giving it an even more potent lemon flavor.
Because the magic of TheBOX occurs under vacuum conditions, the infused terpenes penetrate the flower and/or pre-rolls to the core, enhancing them from the inside out. Novotny has even experimented with wilder flavor concoctions, changing the cannabis flavor altogether and infusing it with flavors like peppermint.
“At MJBizCon four or five years ago, I did a private tasting with a couple hundred people,” he says. “I did a candy-cane flavor, lemon and watermelon — and people lost their minds!”
The Box comes in three sizes: 5-pound, 10-pound and 50-pound. The 5-pound unit is capable of sterilizing up to 50 pounds of cannabis in a single shift, while the 10-pound and 50-pound units can handle up to 100 pounds and 500 pounds, respectively. The company has also recently instituted a “try-before-you-buy” program so the customer can see results for themselves in their own facility with their own flower, prior to purchase.
Novotny has more than two decades of experience in the health care industry, during which he invented a revolutionary way of sterilizing human tissues for transplant surgeries such as spinal fusions and knee reconstructions.
This novel sterilization methodology used reactive oxygen, a proprietary form of vaporized hydrogen peroxide, to preserve human tissue in a sterile environment without affecting the properties of the tissue. When Novotny eventually sold that business, he retained all his patent rights — and years later, when cannabis became a hot topic across North America, his invention turned out to be ideal for preserving plant material just as it was for human tissue.
Part of PuroGen’s challenge is properly informing customers about the differences between various methods of sterilization. For example, other methods like irradiation or ozone might be great at sterilizing a solid surface, such as a metal scalpel, or a room where every nook and cranny needs to be cleaned.
“But when you’re dealing in biologics or plant material, it’s a very specialized sterilization because of the terpene profile and the THC profile,” Novotny says.
That’s where an organic process like reactive oxygen makes more sense, he says.
In addition to The Box, PuroGen manufactures sterilization solutions for anything that needs cleaning.
“Walls, air, ceilings, tools, instruments — the whole nine yards,” Novotny says.
While some growers are still hesitant to use sterilization technologies, Novotny says the industry is rapidly maturing from where it was seven years ago — and that means a greater understanding of the benefits of various sterilization technologies. TheBOX is FDA and GMP compliant, so PuroGen’s customers are already one step ahead of the competition when it comes to national legalization and federal regulations.
“So when the legalization button gets pushed, all of our customers are already in place and ready to go,” Novotny says. “If you are ready to take your cannabis business to the next level, it’s time to Think Inside TheBOX!”