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Pavel Krasutsky’s Success with Birch Bark Extracts

Pavel in the Lab
Pavel Krasutsky in the chemical extraction lab

For nearly two decades, Pavel Krasutsky, director of the Chemical Extractives Program at NRRI, has worked to transform a chemical concept into a full scale, manufacturing process.

It started in 1996 with the idea of developing ways to extract precious chemicals from birch bark for use in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial products and nutritional supplements. NRRI had the unique applied research mission to make the most of Minnesota’s natural resource. Krasutsky felt it should have a lab that extracts the value from birch bark – a waste byproduct of the paper industry.

With NRRI Director Mike Lalich as a champion for the cause, the University of Minnesota provided funding to build and staff a lab at NRRI specifically for chemical extraction.

Krasutsky's unique background and skills made him perfect for the job. Krasutsky is known around the world for his ability to take a chemical laboratory process and turn it into a profitable commercial endeavor. He served as director of the Industrial Research Laboratory for Forestry-Raw Materials, in Kiev, Ukraine, and he worked on plant protection chemistry with the manufacturing firms Rousell Uclaf, Co. in France and Hoechst-Aventis Crop Science, Co. in Germany.

“NRRI gave me a very good opportunity to work with the chemicals of nature and to build my own laboratory,” said Krasutsky. “So I came, and appreciate the opportunity I was given to get started in Professor Robert Carlson’s chemistry lab [at the University of Minnesota Duluth]."

Staffing of the lab came from Krasutsky’s talented student pool at the Institute of Organic Chemistry in Ukraine and the National Technical University’s Kiev Politechnic Institut. The team made the first steps toward the manufacturing of birch bark extract. Over the years, they submitted peer-reviewed journal articles and patented methods for extracting powerful medicinal substances – betulin, lupeol, betulinic acid, and derivatives – from birch bark and other natural materials. The anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative properties in the chemicals are known to fight cancer, reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, treat fungal and bacterial infections, stimulate the immune system, and more.

Pavel Krasutzky
Pavel Krasutsky
Commercializing the extractives was a challenge taken on by the University of Minnesota, Minnesota Power and Potlatch Paper Company. The entities formed a company called NaturNorth LLC to manufacture and market the extracts. As industry and market focuses changed and that company dissolved, another took its place with a more focused business plan.

The steps between the lab work and manufacturing were numerous and difficult. “I could write a book about it,” said Krasutsky. “It seems straightforward, but it’s not. It’s science and politics, tragedy and drama.”

In 2013, the new company, The Actives Factory, in Two Harbors, Minn., applied the patented processing methods to extract and synthesize naturally occurring chemicals in birch bark. The inner and outer bark of the birch tree is made into pellets which are shipped by train to New York where the valuable chemicals are extracted. They are packaged and shipped to another location, broken down further, refined, and made into three additional substances. The chemicals continue their journey to pharmaceutical companies and research institutes, including The Hormel Institute in Austin, Minn. and Rutgers University in New Jersey.  In 2014, The Actives Factory is experiencing record sales, largely because of the high quality of the extractives and continued assistance from Krasutsky and NRRI.  

Krasutsky’s Career
He is an engineer in chemistry, and has a Ph.D. in chemistry and Doctor of Science degree in organic chemistry. Pavel Krasutsky was awarded with the Ukrainian National Award in Science and Technology for Achievements in Fundamental and Applied works and recognized three times by the University of Minnesota as one of their top innovators. Pavel has over 30 years of experience in organic chemistry research, which includes the following directions of organic chemistry: mechanisms of organic reactions, organic chemistry of cage structures, synthesis of biologically active compounds, synthesis and technology of insecticides, chemistry of natural products and chemistry of chemical extractives. He has authored 150 papers for publication in national and international chemistry journals and has written more than 30 patents. Krasutsky holds 16 U.S. patents and 10 world patents, 10 of which were licensed to companies.

Brian Garhofer and The Actives Factory story

More about The Actives Factory

by Cheryl Reitan, October 2014

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