When Seth Pheng began working at a medical cannabis dispensary in 2019, the longtime pharmacist noticed two things.
- One was that people really were coming in for the medicine, not for the marijuana.
- Two was that it was an industry crying out for standards similar to what he was used to in the traditional pharmacy business.
- Three years later, he and his partners at Lebanon-based startup Control Ltd. — Patricia Smith, a former dispensary colleague, and Soph Horn, his cousin — are preparing to roll out their first product designed to bring greater precision to patients taking medical marijuana.
- The company is largely self-funded. But last week, it won a $10,000 cash grant in a pitch competition operated by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central & Northern PA as part of a startup accelerator program.
What ‘s the product: A device for use in taking a version of medical marijuana called Rick Simpson Oil, or RSO, a highly concentrated way of delivering the medication. It represents about 4% of the market in Pennsylvania, Pheng said.
- The oil typically comes in a syringe with a plunger that patients use to push it out, maybe onto a cracker. But the standard plunger can be hard to handle and does not offer a clear guide for measurement, Pheng said.
- A dispensary pharmacist might recommend that a patient start by measuring out an amount equal to a half grain of rice, a unit that can be open to interpretation, Pheng says.
- “There’s no general standard for that,” he said
- Control’s patented plunger (shown above) is designed with notches to accurately measure out doses and it is easier to use for people who may be older or arthritic.
- “By allowing the patient to be able to control what they’re getting, they have a more predictable outcome,” Horn said.
What’s the market: Growers and processors of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania, as well as other states, according to Pheng.
- The average midsized processor makes 50,000 to 60,000 RSO syringes per year, Pheng said. Larger companies could produce three to four times that.
- Control’s plunger can be incorporated into existing processes and products, Pheng added. “It’s pretty much kind of a natural fit for us.”
- And by making RSO easier to take, the device could help to expand the market, he added.
How did they start: Pheng and Smith began batting around ideas when they worked at a dispensary in Lebanon.
- They quickly recruited Horn, who has a background in mechanical engineering — and a 3D printer for making prototypes.
- They founded the company in October 2020.
- Pheng is president and CEO. Smith is vice president of operations. Horn is vice president for research and development.
What’s next: The company is working with a manufacturing partner to outsource production of its plunger, Pheng said.
- Pheng said he expects to have the final product in hand by October.
- The company also is eyeing other products addressing issues in the medical marijuana market, including one for tinctures, another form of medical cannabis, he said.
- Products for the recreational market are another possibility, as are products for the nascent effort to use psychadelic substances in mental health treatment.