(Singapore) Here’s the scenario: scientists have managed to grow the cells of chicken or cows in a lab, and industrializing this process could be a game-changer for the animal protein industry and all of the environmental baggage that comes with it. This would be such a mesmerizing game change that Bill Gates and Sergey Brin have backed early ventures and many more investors are getting excited about the space.
The problem is the cost. The first beef patty cost more than USD $300,000 to make. This is mainly because that patty required wildly expensive foetal bovine serum to grow the animal cells in, mimicking the way would grow muscle tissue in real life. Regulation of the density of cells in a fermentation is likely to become the secondary challenge to the overwhelmingly No. 1 priority of going after a cost effective raw input that can make cultivated meat cells grow.
When reading about cultivated meats years ago, serial entrepreneur and scientist Mihir Pershad decided to go after the challenge of replacing fetal bovine serum after recognizing that addressing the primary cost driver would be critical to commercializing cultivated meats at a price that consumers could afford.
“We tried to start with putting the hardest problem first,” Pershad said. “Once we have that in place, we can think about building a system around it.”
Pershad, a biochemist with a degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also has an entrepreneurial track record in aquaculture, having served as CEO of functional feed ingredient supplier VakSea. That’s where he got a sense of the high inefficiency in the global shrimp industry, which suffers from significant disease issues which results in 40% mortality of all farmed produce.
That inefficiency is completely sidestepped in cultivated meats. That’s why he targeted the cultivated meat industry’s biggest challenge, which is bringing down the cost of the main raw ingredient input.
Pershad is joined by Dr. Parameswaran Vijaykumar, a scientist who has been working on producing fish cell lines for over two decades and one of the handfuls of people with the right experience to develop this new industry. Pershad’s other ally in creating in Umami Meats is the government of Singapore, which is backing novel food technologies as it seeks to become one of the world’s major new food tech hubs.
Some other scientists have applied knowledge from related areas of biotech, such as regenerative medicine and antibody protein therapeutics. There is “still a lot of science to do”, Pershad says, but the company is beginning to size up the prospect of aligning with commercial partners to bring a product to market.
Umami Meats has experimented with a legume-derived growth serum and did lab trials to grow the cells of Japanese eel and yellowfin tuna, two species with limited supply and high demand. The company’s next step is to create the first prototypes of a product and develop a production system around its serum.
Umami Meats' primary targets: Legume-derived Growth Serum, Red Snapper, Yellowfin Tuna, Japanese Eel.
TYLAP has recently invested in Umami Meats, as part of its USD $2.4 million pre-seed round. TYLAP is thrilled to collaborate with Mihir again on his new company after previously working with Mihir as CEO of VakSea, which won the AquaSG 2019 Early Stage Aquaculture Innovation Showcase Challenge, a competition held to celebrate the inauguration of the Aquaculture Innovation Center (AIC) in Singapore.
There is a lot of tailwind in the broader industry at the moment, and some of the industry frontrunners have done well in attracting significant venture capital. Beyond the scientific potential, backers are acutely aware of the huge environmental footprint of the conventional meat industry, and the concerns around antimicrobial resistance in some species. That’s why they say a bright future in the cultivated meat space.
1 March 2022.
Matt Craze and Oriana Aguillon, Spheric Research.