One step closer to putting cultured meat on the table
Scalability and costs are two major challenges facing the cultured meat industry. British biotech company CellulaREvolution is offering a novel approach to addressing both challenges. Their technology facilitates continuous production of cells in serum-free conditions.
Before co-founding CellulaREvolution together with Martina Miotto and Che Connon, two scientists from Newcastle University, Leo Groenewegen was the Chief Financial Officer of a company involved in cell therapy. When Leo met Martina and Che at a conference, they decided to collaborate, matching his entrepreneurial approach with their innovative research. Leading to CellulaREvolution being incorporated in July 2019.
Two of the biggest challenges facing the cultured meat industry have been the cost of serum and the difficulty of scaling up batch production. CellulaREvolution has developed novel approaches to address these two challenges. Their mission is to become the leader in continuous cell culturing technologies, providing their clients with highly sophisticated and innovative products.
Cultured meat in its essence is currently the most conventional name for meat which has been grown in vitro as opposed to meat obtained by the farming and slaughtering of animals. In 2013, the first cultured beef burger cost US$300,000. In 2018, Memphis Meats told reporters that it had managed to bring down the price of cell-cultured chicken to below US$1,000 per pound. Although the cost of cultured meat has been continuously dropping, the high price tag is still one of the obstacles to bringing cultured meat to consumers’ dinner tables. The animal-derived ingredients in cell culture media is a significant cost driver.
Bioreactors that support continuous production
“The body works by producing cell continuously so why do we grow them in batches?” Professor Connon’s lab at Newcastle University has been tissue engineering stem cell niche by recreating environments found insde the body. This system underpins CellulaREvolution’s approach to bioreactor design. Asking ourselves: is it possible to create a continous cell production sytstem rather than batch?”
Currently, batch production has been the standard practice in cultured meat. Since cell culture is a process of exponential expansion, the batch process is not the most efficient approach to use in large-scale production. For example, to produce a small meat patty, which contains ten billion muscle cells, takes one month within a single 5,000-liter bioreactor.
The bio-inspired bioreactors that the team at CellulaREvolution are developing do not depend on batch but support a continuous production. Such new continuous bioreactors could seriously reduce the time and resources required to produce a small meat patty or any other cultured meat product. This is done by creating a bioreactor with a special adherent coating that allows a few cells to self-detach continuously in a controlled manner whilst simultaneously being replaced by new cells. Thus, creating a self-sustaining continuous process.
Another benefit of the continuous bioreactor is that cells can be harvested individually (at very high rates), rather than as a single batch. This individual cell harvest allows each cell collected to be analyzed, which could radically improve the level of quality assurance. Overall switching from a batch to a continuous system comes with an array of benefits illustrated below:
“Our coating is already commercially available and a prototype bioreactor ready; following some testing with customers cells, our first small-size continuous bioreactors will be commercially available in 2021”
When asked whether the COVID outbreak will cause any delay in the company’s plans, Groenewegen noted that he expects a limited disruption. “We are also planning a fund-raising round in late 2020,” he adds. With a combination of innovative technology and shrewd business management, this new start-up is setting course for a successful entrepreneurship journey.
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