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Merilee Kern

Health Care

Democratizing Precision Medicine

Radicle Science brings AI-driven clinical trials to cannabinoid and wellness research

Published: Wednesday, May 25, 2022 - 11:02

Since the dawn of civilization, humans have used natural remedies for their healing properties. Some of the same treatments are still used by billions around the world, based largely on anecdotal evidence and lore. Clinical research on natural treatments is lacking due to costly clinical trials, sparse or restricted funding, and institutional bureaucracies that slow research. These hurdles ultimately prevent viable, affordable solutions from reaching a mainstream market in a timely fashion—or at all.

Rising demand for natural products is dramatically changing that industry sector. The global complementary and alternative medicine market is expected to grow from $100.4 billion in 2021 to $404.66 billion by 2028, according to the “2021 Complementary and Alternative Medicine Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis” report by Grand View Research. The report further states that traditional alternative medicine, or botanicals, dominated the market in 2020 with a share of 38.48 percent.

One company revolutionizing the validation of health and wellness products is Radicle Science, an AI-driven health tech B-corp that harnesses direct-to-consumer clinical trials to prove and predict the effects of these products. The company, co-founded by Pelin Thorogood and Jeff Chen, is dedicated to delivering clinical trials faster, cheaper, and most important, with thousands more diverse participants than traditional research studies.

Thorogood’s and Chen’s work experience explain why the company has realized such early success with its business model and community impact. Their past and present endeavors now drive the company’s innovative approach to traditional clinical trial and research.

Pelin, a tech executive turned impact entrepreneur, has made a career within emerging business trends and disruptive technologies. She previously served as CEO and board director of Anametrix, a venture-backed multichannel data collection, visualization, and predictive analytics platform. Prior to Anametrix, she was CMO of WebSideStory, a pioneer in web analytics and digital marketing. Deeply committed to education and community, Pelin also serves as trustee and treasurer of the UC-San Diego Foundation, executive board member of the UC-San Diego Basement startup incubator, and co-founder and president of the Wholistic Research and Education Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to cannabis research.

Chen is the founder and former executive director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative (one of the world’s first), which grew to include more than 40 faculty conducting research, education, and policy projects. Chen earned his medical and MBA degrees concurrently on a full merit scholarship at UCLA. He’s a U.S. patent holder, David Geffen Fellow, a published author in cannabinoid, oncology, and radiology research, and an industry mentor for the U.S. National Institutes of Health I-CORPs startup accelerator. He also serves as a medical advisor to Healthline Media, and is the chief science officer of the Wholistic Research and Education Foundation.

I asked both Thorogood and Chen how they’re driving health-tech innovation regionally, nationally, and globally.

Merilee Kern: First, please explain what Radicle Science does, and a bit about your expertise in driving it.

Jeff Chen: Radicle Science is an AI-driven, health-tech B-corp that proves and predicts the effectiveness of health and wellness products at scale. Radicle combines the reach of a market research company, the scientific rigor of a research university, and the agility of a tech company to reimagine clinical trials and transform these products into democratized precision medicines.

Operating at the intersection of health, wellness, big data, and digital health, our company leverages a proprietary data analytics platform and a virtual, direct-to-consumer model to deliver objective health-outcome data across diverse populations and conditions. We’re committed to a future where affordable, accessible, natural health products are trusted by patients, recommended by healthcare providers, reimbursed by insurance, and used as widely as pharmaceutical drugs.

Pelin Thorogood: After hiring our first employee in November 2020, the Radicle Science team has grown to include experts and luminaries with well over 50 advanced degrees. These include chairman of the advisory board Peter H. Diamandis (named as one of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” by Fortune), CTO Sheldon Borkin (WebMD’s former vice president of tech and chief security officer), chief research officer Emily Pauli (Clearview Cancer Institute’s former director of research), and advisor Rhona Applebaum (Coca-Cola’s former chief science officer).

We’re honored to have such a high-caliber group helping drive our virtual, direct-to-consumer, crowdsourced clinical trial approach. Our unique abilities have allowed us to serve diverse brands, from startups to multibillion-dollar publicly traded companies. We're also proud to provide verified products and personalized health reports free to thousands of individuals across the country who participate in our studies.

MK: I understand Radicle Science is launching clinical trials in 2022 on rare cannabinoids to study their effects on certain physical and mental health conditions. How many participants are expected, and how does this compare to your company’s CBD studies from 2021?

JC: Yes, Radicle Science is launching the first large-scale, blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trials on rare cannabinoids, including THCV, CBN, CBG, and CBC, to study their effects on sleep disturbance, pain, stress, and anxiety. These Radicle Discovery studies will involve more than 10,000 people. Brands participating in these studies include Columbia Care, Lord Jones, Open Book Extracts, Straight Hemp, Trokie, and Wana Brands.

All told, we’re headed for exponential growth in 2022 as we prepare to study ten times more people than we did in 2021—which was already exponentially more than traditional clinical trials.

MK: On that note, looking back at 2021, what are some of the highlights of what Radicle Science accomplished?

PT: 2021 was a year of many, many firsts. I’m proud to say that our company worked with dozens of industry-leading cannabinoid brands and studied more participants across these randomized controlled trials (RCTs) than all worldwide cannabinoid RCTs combined that year. Our studies resulted in millions of health-outcome data points.

We closed out 2021 by completing more than two dozen RCTs of cannabinoid products, including the largest cannabinoid study and the first cannabinoid study for women’s health. The Radicle Real World Evidence studies, involving more than 7,000 participants, examined various formulations of CBD-containing products and their effect on key health outcomes across five domains, including general well-being, quality of life, sleep quality, pain, and feelings of stress and anxiety.

MK: What else has been noteworthy about some of the other Radicle Science studies to date?

JC: Radicle ACES (Advancing CBD Education and Science) was the largest RCT on CBD and generated real-world evidence of its effects. ACES encompassed nearly 3,000 participants and set new standards for expediency and cost by completing ten times faster and ten times cheaper than traditional clinical trials.

Radicle ACES employed validated, standardized health indices to gather real-world health outcomes from a diverse population. The study determined the effectiveness of botanical products containing CBD.

Initial findings indicated participants experienced a 71-percent improvement in their well-being, on average, across all the products. Participating brands included ALTWELL, Charlotte’s Web, Columbia Care, Healer, Lord Jones, Maven Hemp, MD FARMA, Peels, Prospect Farms, PURAURA Naturals from Enhanced Botanicals, Rae Wellness, Trokie, and Verséa Wellness.

PT: Many industry-leading brands also underwent a Radicle Real World Sleep study (RRWS), an RCT that researched the effectiveness of orally ingestible CBD products for sleep. In total, more than 2,000 participants from diverse geographical areas (including many rural areas) in the United States participated across all of these RRWS studies. Through our 100-percent virtual approach, we were able to include hard-to-reach populations typically not represented in clinical studies, making our study demographics representative of the true U.S. population.

When Radicle Science anonymized and aggregated the data across all brands in this study, researchers found that among participants with preexisting sleep complaints, 65 percent experienced a clinically meaningful improvement in their sleep quality after taking one of the CBD brands.

MK: For your work in 2022, how will you share new findings and results?

JC: We’ll share knowledge from the aggregated, anonymized data across our studies with consumers, regulators, manufacturers, and healthcare providers. We're looking forward to participating in conversations about the future of cannabinoid clinical research. Our aim is to create a movement that redefines the research paradigm and enables evidence-based decision-making across the health and wellness industry, starting with cannabinoids.

MK: I understand you were just named a “Cool Companies 2022” by Connect SD.

JC: We're so honored that Connect SD chose Radicle Science as one of the fastest growing and most exciting tech and life-sci companies in San Diego. We’re also excited to be recognized for our work in AI-driven health tech and our partnership model with academia.

MK: I know you work closely with UC-San Diego. Can you share a bit about your partnership with the university?

PT: Radicle Science is honored to partner with UC-San Diego, a national leader in innovation that drives social and economic good. We’re one of the inaugural partners for UC-San Diego’s Innovation Sprints program. Through this novel partnership, we’re amplifying our research and development for wearables integration and the internet of things (IoT).

We’re also proud that 25 percent of Radicle Science’s team is composed of graduates from UC-San Diego. These are data science and public health graduates who combined their classroom education with transdisciplinary initiatives, including The Basement’s academic internships and the LatinX Leadership program.

UC-San Diego is a key contributor to California’s innovation ecosystem. It has pioneered novel programs like The Basement startup incubator, which attracts entrepreneurs who mentor UC-San Diego students. It’s inspiring to be one of these mentors as I serve on The Basement’s executive board. My involvement with UC-San Diego has been one of most fulfilling experiences of my life.

MK: Is your community engagement model one you feel should be followed by companies in other regions?

JC: San Diego’s robust entrepreneurial and academic communities have certainly set the region apart as a leading innovation economy. The city’s collaborative, supportive ecosystem provides capital, mentorship, infrastructure, and an educated workforce that’s bolstered by world-class research institutions.

Although other cities and counties may or may not benefit from the same scope and caliber of resources, our community engagement efforts are definitely a model that can be duplicated. The advancements we’ve seen can positively affect local and regional economies. I hope our company’s community-centric focus can serve as an archetype for other companies both near and far.

PT: For my part, I continually strive to be a valued mentor and advisor to students through various entrepreneurship programs. My hope is that they gain perspective, expertise, and motivation as they bring their fresh ideas and methodologies to market.

As an example, my work with The Basement enables students build companies in a local culture of innovation and impact, thereby bettering both our local and global communities. In addition, our company offers its own internship and employment opportunities.

MK: Relative to your actual services and offerings, who exactly does Radicle Science work with?

PT: Radicle Science works with brands interested in scientific understanding and demonstrating the effectiveness of their products. We initially focused on serving the CBD and cannabinoid industry, and are now opening up some of our study slots to other health and wellness categories, such as functional mushrooms, nootropics, and herbal products.

We have, in essence, democratized the clinical trial process, enabling any health and wellness brand, big or small, to undergo validation and prove its effectiveness.

MK: Why would a natural products brand want to engage with Radicle Science, specifically?

JC: Radicle Science validates a product’s effectiveness to differentiate a brand, build credibility, and drive revenue. We do this by reimagining traditional pharmaceutical and academic research models to deliver rigorous health outcome data at a fraction of the time and cost. Our research offerings are designed by experts, leverage a turnkey methodology, and provide actionable insights rapidly. Our big-data approach offers a unique analysis of demographic or behavioral variations.

MK: Radicle Science is a B-corp. What does that mean?

PT: A benefit corporation, or B-corp, is a for-profit corporation that is driven by both mission and profit. Shareholders hold the company accountable to produce a financial profit, as well as a specified public benefit.

As a Public Benefit Corporation, our commitment to “increase public awareness of safe and affordable treatment options for the benefit of individuals who are in need of such treatments by studying and sharing objective health outcome data” is part of our corporate charter, as stated in our certificate of incorporation. It’s a public statement of our mission to change healthcare for all.


About The Author

Merilee Kern’s picture

Merilee Kern

Official Forbes Business Council member Merilee Kern is an internationally regarded brand analyst, strategist, and futurist—a prolific branding and marketplace trends influencer who both represents and reports on noteworthy industry change-makers, movers, shakers, and innovators across all categories, in B2C and B2B. This includes field experts and thought leaders, brands, products—such as Cure UV—services, destinations, and events.