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August 2020: The Month in Review

After the largest funding round to date for a cellular agriculture company in July, this August marked a strong end to summer 2020 for cellular agriculture. Compared to conventional animal products, cellular agriculture (cell ag) offers an alternative and more sustainable way to produce the same products, like meat or dairy, directly from cell cultures to meet the growing demand for animal products. Without requiring animals.

And this August, cellular agriculture companies continued to make progress to advance the field forward. From new investments to advancements by companies developing a supply chain for the field, we take a look at all the highlights of what happened this August in cellular agriculture.

Investments

IntegriCulture

Japanese startup Integriculture received a JPY 240 million ($2.2 million) grant by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization from the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. Founded by Yuki Hanyu and Ikko Kawashima, IntegriCulture uses cellular agriculture to produce cell-based meat, specifically foie gras. The latest funding round brings IntegriCulture’s total funding to JPY 1.34 billion  ($12.3 million). In May 2020, IntegriCulture announced its Series A round of $7.2 million to further advance their research around cell-based meat and their cell culture technology.

IntegriCulture plans to use the grant funding to develop a commercial production site. After showcasing its first cell-based foie gras in 2017, IntegriCulture plans to launch a cell-based foie gras product as early as next year. Around the same time as announcing its Series A round, IntegriCulture announced the launch of its “Uni-CulNet” framework to standardize infrastructure for the cellular agriculture industry to empower companies around the world to sustainably produce their own cell-cultured products. In July, IntegriCulture announced a partnership with cell-based seafood company Shiok Meats to help scale production of its cell-based shrimp meat through the CulNet system.

 

ORF Genetics

Based in Iceland, ORF Genetics is a biotechnology company that uses barley to produce a range of growth factors. And to start the month, ORF Genetics announced the company received a EUR 2.5 million grant from the European Commission’s Grant Management Services.

ORF Genetics intends to use the grant for research, development, and marketing of its latest product line: animal-like growth factors to produce cell-based meat. Marketed under the MESOkine brand, growth factors are a key and costly ingredient in developing the cell culture media formulation to produce cell-based meat. Having modified barley to previously produce skin care products as well as growth factors for human stem cells, ORF Genetics aims to reduce the cost of cell-based meat production to help scale the field.

It is promising to see the European governmental bodies continue to support companies developing the cellular agriculture ecosystem. In December 2019, Dutch cell-based meat company Meatable received $3 million from the European Commission through the Eurostar Programme. In addition, Peace of Meat received a grant of €1.2 million (US$1.33 million) from the Flemish government agency Agentschap Innoveren & Ondernemen in Belgium. 

 

Bond Pets

Bond Pets announced the pet food startup raised its bridge financing round from seed investors Lever VC and KBW Ventures and new investors Stage 1 and Trellis Road. Based in Boulder, Colorado, Bond Pets is a pet food startup that uses cellular agriculture to produce sustainable pet food. According to AgFunder, with the bridge funding, Bond Pets has raised a total of just under $2 million. In December 2019, Bond Pets raised $1.2 million in seed funding.

Along with the financing, Bond Pets announced the startup created the first cultured chicken meat protein for its pet food. By adding the genetic sequence of proteins found in chicken into yeast, Bond Pets created the same proteins found in chicken meat to produce nutritional pet foods. Bond Pets aims to scale up its prototype and work towards bringing a cultured chicken protein product to market by 2023. 

 

Mission to Creating Cell-Based Bacon

Cell-based meat and fat company Mission Barns announced its plans to run a curbside taste test of its Mission Bacon, a product composed of its cell-cultured pork fat and plant-based proteins outside restaurants in San Francisco and Oakland in California. From food products to high-end cosmetics, cell-cultured animal fat can be used in a range of products. Having scaled their production to produce tons of their product, Mission Barns is now looking to partner with other companies to integrate their cell-cultured fat as an ingredient.

Following Higher Steaks’ cell-based bacon showcase in July, Mission Barns is the second cellular agriculture startup to showcase its pork bacon product. With plans to run a taste test at two restaurants, would Mission Barns’ bacon qualify as the first cell-based meat product tasted by the public at a restaurant?

 

Computer Modelling the Future of Cellular Agriculture

Ever wondered how computer modelling could fit into cellular agriculture?

Earlier this month, the Cultivated Meat Modelling Consortium (CMMC) published an article about developing a computer model to simulate bioreactor systems for cell-based meat production.

bioreactor is the chamber where all the parts of producing cell-based meat come together to form the end meat product. Currently, no large-scale bioreactors exist that can accommodate commercial scaling for cell-based meat. Computer modelling can address that. By using computer modelling and simulations, researchers can cut the cost and time to conduct experiments. 

A great analogy from the CMMC website is the automotive industry. Instead of running hundreds of physical experiments for car safety, the automotive industry shifted to computer models to run hundreds of virtual car safety experiments before building a physical prototype to perform safety tests. This saved automotive companies thousands of dollars and weeks of time.

Similarly, cellular agriculture researchers can develop and create computer models to do virtual experiments before conducting physical tests to reach their conclusions. Saving researchers both time and costs.

In their recent project sponsored by Merck KGaA, the CMMC shared the framework for their bioreactor model. In a type of bioreactor called stir flow bioreactors, the CMMC explored how cells would grow and survive based on different factors, like rotor speed and the turbulence it may cause.

The CMMC now plans to work with industry players to get more data from their physical experiments to improve their computer models. As they get more data from companies in the field, the CMMC can create more accurate model simulations for what may be the ideal type of bioreactor technology to grow cell-based meat at scale.

If it’s anything like what computer modeling did for the automotive industry, computer modelling can significantly reduce the cost and time required for cellular agriculture research. Make sure to check out the bioreactor demo on the CMMC website too!

 

JUST Looking for Profitability before IPO

JUST co-founder and CEO Josh Tetrick shared that the company aims to be profitable by the end of 2021 before exploring the option of becoming a public company through an initial public offering (IPO). The producer of the plant-based JUST Egg, JUST is working on producing its own cell-based chicken nugget. In May 2019, Beyond Meat’s incredible IPO highlighted the incredible investor interest in companies making alternatives to conventional animal products.

 

Building the Nanofiber Matrix for the Future of Meat

Scaffolding is one of the major scaling obstacles for cell-based meat production, and new startup Matrix Meats is looking to use its nanofiber scaffolding to help build the future of food. Providing structural support for cells, scaffolding is an important part for producing complex cell-based meat products, like cell-based steak or chicken. Matrix Meats aims to showcase a solid meat prototype by the end of this year using its nanofiber scaffolding technology.

 

Future Fields Go Through Y Combinator

Future Fields, a Canadian startup working on producing cell culture media for the cell-based meat industry, announced the startup is the first Canadian cellular agriculture company to go through the Y Combinator program, a leading accelerator for startups. 

Based in Edmonton, Alberta, Future Fields is one of several startups working on producing an inexpensive and animal-free cell culture media that has once been described as the Holy Grail for cellular agriculture companies. In March 2019, Shiok Meats shared that Singaporean startup was the first cell-based meat company to be accepted into the Y Combinator program.

 

Impossible Foods raises additional $200M for Plant-based Meat

Plant-based meat company Impossible Foods announced that the company raised an additional $200 million in funding. Impossible Foods plans to use the new funding round to globally expand as well as further develop its latest plant-based products, such as steak, pork, and milk products. After raising $500 million in March, this funding round brings Impossible’s total funding to date over $1.5 billion - more than the entire cellular agriculture food ecosystem. In July, Impossible Foods announced the Impossible Burger will be available in over 2,000 Walmart stores in all 50 states in the US.

 

A Clean Break in the Plant-based World?

Lightlife Foods, a plant-based brand owned by Canadian meat company Maple Leaf Foods, launched a marketing campaign attacking both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. In an attempt to put both Beyond and Impossible in the same category, Lightlife criticized the two companies for having a long list of ingredients and for using cell-grown ingredients. (Beyond Meat does not use heme and contains only a few more ingredients than Lightlife’s plant-based burger).

Interestingly, this appears to be the first instance of in-fighting among plant-based companies and brands. Founded in 1979, Lightlife Foods is a historic player in the plant-based food field before being acquired by Maple Leaf Foods in 2017.  As one of the top plant-based meat brands by US retail sales in 2019, it’s not surprising that the company feels threatened by newer players like Impossible Foods entering the retail space and reduce its market share in the plant-based aisle. 

We usually discuss how alternative protein startups working with incumbent corporates can help move the field forward, from distribution channels to addressing scaling hurdles. The ‘Clean Break’ campaign by Lightlife Foods and Maple Leaf Foods highlights that is not always the case. 

Instead of launching attacking campaigns against other companies in the existing alternative protein market, corporates would be better served by expanding the market size to ensure there is enough space for both themselves as well as newer, innovative companies working to make our food system more sustainable.

Instead of fighting for a larger piece of a pie, the whole industry can be served by increasing the size of the pie.

Conclusion:

In a recent article, Meatable co-founder and CTO Daan Luining compared the rise of the cell-based meat industry with the ever-growing popularity of electric cars like Tesla. Similar to cell-based meats, electric vehicles offer an innovative way to reduce the environmental impact of transportation. Considering the environmental impact of animal agriculture, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and resource consumption, cellular agriculture offers an inventive way to produce the same products without consuming as many resources. 

From government support for IntegriCulture to novel projects like CMMC to advance the field through simulations, the field continued to grow this August. In particular, it’s notable that many startups sharing progress this month, from ORF Genetics to Matrix Meats and Future Fields, are all working to address key scaling pain points for the cell-based meat industry. By addressing these challenges, these startups are helping to develop a whole ecosystem and value chain around the future of food with cellular agriculture.

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