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Case Study – Phytovista Laboratories

The market for cannabinoids, most commonly CBD, has grown exponentially in the UK over the last few years, inevitably leading to increased government scrutiny of the marketplace. Last year’s study by the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis (CMC) concluded the UK has the most evolved regulatory framework for CBD in the world. This includes interventions by both the Food Standards Agency and the Home Office. However, the report also called for further government intervention to protect this burgeoning market and ensure the quality and safety of the products available. 

The Food Standards Agency requires that novel foods (a category that includes CBD products)  be approved, and that the testing provided is accredited. This process provides a robust testing framework and audit trail, enabling adequate demonstration of quality. 

Nicholas Clarkson, Phytovista’s CSO, told UKAS that there was customer demand from the producers of CBD products, not only for testing, but for accredited testing. Nicholas explained that while some manufacturers are simply looking for the cheapest option available, those seeking any kind of longevity within the marketplace, require accredited testing. 

“As we are looking to be a credible lab with a long-term future, it was quite clear from the start that we needed to seek accreditation for our activities wherever possible.” 

Established just over four years ago, Phytovista Laboratories is a relatively young organisation and forms part of Goodbody Health Inc. While they do other types of testing, their key focus is cannabinoid testing for companies producing food and cosmetic products containing CBD elements, which the FSA regards as impurities. 

The customer provides the product and the product specification and Phytovista conducts the necessary tests, providing results without interpretation, enabling the customer to ensure the specification is met, or to make appropriate adjustments. 

Nicholas explains that while accreditation is not currently mandatory in this area, it is an important marker of credibility: 

“We have always been guided by best practice and much of the information coming from government suggests that in the future there could be a mandatory requirement for accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025. Phytovista have been shaped by government guidance including the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs report and the Government Chemist’s Guidance, published in 2021.” 

Nicholas goes on to tell UKAS that accreditation was always part of the plan, right from the inception of the laboratory: 

“As longevity and credibility are our priorities at Phytovista, accreditation of the laboratory has been a goal since the lab was built.” 

The route to accreditation 

When their journey to accreditation began, Phytovista opted for a pre-assessment visit. This is an option chosen by many organisations for whom accreditation is an entirely new venture and it provides a number of advantages: 

“This was a great opportunity to meet our Assessment Manager, Juliette Love, albeit virtually due to the ongoing pandemic. Juliette was hugely supportive and helpful as we navigated what was something of a rollercoaster for us.” 

Phytovista had nothing initially in place and, much like their laboratory, built the Quality Management System and the methodology from scratch. This resulted in a lot of trail and error until the reached an approach that allowed them to demonstrate they met all the requirements of the standard. 

They are candid about the challenges this process presented: 

“When you are a small company, as we are, you are always trying to balance revenue generating activities with accreditation activities (especially method development), which can be a challenge, however it’s also very important, so you make time for it.” 

Following the pre-assessment, Juliette provided a full report that highlighted areas for improvement. 

The entire process from application to grant of accreditation took approximately two years, an impressive achievement even for those that are not new to the accreditation process. This was far from the end of their journey with UKAS, and in February 2022, Phytovista extended the scope of their accreditation in response to the Government Chemist’s Guidance, and they continue to watch closely for any additional testing requirements that might emerge from an increasingly regulated environment. 

Commenting on the achievement of Phytovista Laboratories, Juliette Love (UKAS Section Head for AFLA) said the following: “It is a pleasure when you are involved with a customer from the first tentative enquiries about accreditation, through the pre-assessment and all the way to grant of accreditation and extension to scope. Phytovista Laboratories have done incredibly well to achieve what they have in a relatively short time-frame, and I am sure they will only go further in their quest for continual improvement.”