Building partnerships for successful cultured meat production
The market for cultured meat is expanding and is set to accelerate, opening a huge opportunity for businesses in this area. Our aim is to serve these businesses by providing them with the tools and technology — induced pluripotent stem cells, or IPSCs — to grow their own cultured meat. By helping our clients leverage our uniquely efficient and effective methodologies, Roslin Technologies has the potential to become a world leader in this market.
Whilst the alternative protein market is currently worth only $3.2 billion compared to the worldwide meat market value of $945 billion, it has seen exponential growth and investment over the last few years as investors are swayed by the move to more sustainable production methods. The latest technology in this area is cultured meat – animal cells grown in a fermenter to produce a product that is essentially meat without the need to slaughter an animal. Whilst this is a relatively novel technology with some fundamental challenges to be addressed before it can be made commercially viable for widespread uptake, it has seen significant investment of over $500 million in the last couple of years (including the $161 million raised by Memphis Meats earlier in 2020) and continues to build its appeal to consumers and investors.
Our strategy is not to manufacture cultured meat, but instead to be the main supplier of technology to the industry. We can license our stem cell tools to partner companies to provide a strong foundation upon which they can build their business, allowing us to make profits while the industry grows. With our USP in IPSCs we will seek to be the lead provider of cells to this high growth market, developing our own range as we work with more clients.
Irrespective of consumer choices, there is a significant deficit between the amount of protein that’s produced globally and the amount needed to feed the expanding population. With the world population set to grow further, the United Nations estimates that demand for animal-derived protein will double by 2050. Obviously, a doubling of the world livestock population is not a viable option, neither technically nor from an environmental perspective. Already there are well-publicised concerns that the farming of livestock can be an inefficient method for the delivery of food and that it is contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Farm Carbon Toolkit (https://www.farmcarbontoolkit.org.uk).
Consumer concerns related to this environmental impact, alongside a growing unwillingness amongst some of the population to consume meat products for moral reasons, have primed the global food market for an increase in demand for non-live-animal produced protein. In the US, a 2018 survey showed that about 5% of adults considered themselves vegetarian; with c. 254 million US citizens of voting age, that accounts for almost 13 million people. According to the Vegan Society, a UK lobby group, the number of vegans (those who eschew all animal products) in Great Britain quadrupled between 2014 and 2019 to 600,000. It estimates that vegetarians look set to make up a quarter of the British population in 2025. Most significantly so-called flexitarians, those with a less rigid adherence to a vegan or vegetarian diet, will make up half of all UK consumers by that time.
Taste and texture
What is also clear is that those who do not want to eat farmed meat do not necessarily want to avoid something that tastes or has the texture of meat – quite the opposite. Starbucks, the world’s largest coffeehouse company has linked up with companies Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat to offer customers plant-based meat substitutes. Global fast-food-chain Burger King launched a “vegi” version of its flagship Whopper burger in the past year. This trend is something that clearly can increase profitability, with Greggs, a UK chain, raising profit guidance three times in 2019 in part on the back of demand for its vegan sausage roll.
In parallel there’s strong demand for grocery products such as those produced under the Linda McCartney and Quorn brands. This shows considerable potential for the development of food products that resemble meat without the attendant environmental or moral concerns. While plant-based methods attempt to mimic the characteristics of meat products, it’s clear that many consumers may feel dissatisfied by the results, and long for the taste and texture of a “real meat” product.
Cultured meat is therefore one exciting solution to significant shifts in the global food marketplace:
- it massively reduces the use of land from meat production leaving assets free for other farming uses and reducing habitat destruction
- it presents a reduced greenhouse gas emission profile compared with those associated with livestock
- it addresses moral concerns of millions of people related to the slaughter of live animals
- it avoids chemical residues, including those of medicines, in the human food chain.
The general theory for cultured meat is to take a sample of cells from the appropriate animal and then grow these in a fermenter, producing enough cells to create a meat-like product. The snag here is that creating it in volumes that are cost effective is not straightforward, with some methods in development facing barriers to commercial viability.
Roslin Technologies is ideally placed to help companies developed their cultured meat programmes. After significant investment and years of research, the company is a world leader in the development of animal stem cells, including iPSCs. Led by Head of Laboratory Sciences Dr Joe Mee, we have focused on developing the technology in key animal species, technology which can be exploited to develop advanced cell therapies, drug screening assays and act as a step to gene editing. Significantly, these cells provide the most efficient route to cultured meat because of their ability to be turned into any cell of the body. But they are also incredibly difficult to develop – our advanced science can help partner companies leapfrog this key stage of development.
We are in the process of patenting our technology which uses an extra-chromosomal process to generate stem cells without damaging host cell’s DNA. Sequencing analysis of the resulting stem cells shows that we have managed to convert primary animal cells to now more pliable animal stem cells. Moreover, we demonstrate that these stem cells have the capacity to make different types of cells of the animal from which they were derived, whether that be muscle or fat cells, the cells that will normally be found in meat products. We have already produced pig iPSCs and are working on the production of bovine iPSCs.
To outline the advantages of IPSCs in cultured meat production:
- they can be grown indefinitely and therefore remove the need to go back to animals to replenish the supply
- they can differentiate into various tissue types
- they can be grown in fully defined serum free conditions.
In contrast many of those looking to develop cultured meat products are relying on either mesenchymal stem cells or primary cell cultures. The problems with using these cells are multiple:
- primary cell cultures cannot be differentiated into all required tissue types – for example, you cannot grow a muscle cell from a fat cell
- both types of cells cannot be grown forever meaning an ongoing return to harvest cells from live animals.
There are a few other companies attempting to deliver similar projects with IPSCs, however their work is at an early stage – from the cost and timing perspective, partner companies looking to develop stem cells for cultured meat will have a strong advantage by working with Roslin Tech.
Our offering and proposition
Our offering consists of a number of key attributes:
- access to groundbreaking technology that provides a plausible and reliable route to successful scaled production of cultured meat
- leapfrogging a complex development phase that few companies have the resources to expedite
- an ongoing partnership to ensure continued excellence and improved efficiencies
- while regulatory alignment is required with end producers, we can avoid a lot of the direct costs associated with progressing through regulatory stages.
Our proposition is to license multiple partners to translate the technology in their own cultured meat products. We believe our proprietorial science is sufficiently advanced to become the gold standard while allowing for the widest competition between manufacturers (much as “Intel Inside” is a sign of processor quality across the myriad of computer manufacturers). Our licensing system will allow for continued share of profits from a licence fee and associated royalties.
We are proposing a three-step process to build long-term relationships with our partners.
- evaluation: we grant a licence where the partner gets to use our cell technology to investigate the potential in their own process development
- development: we support our partners to the developmental stage with our scientists working in tandem with them to bring products to market efficiently
- commercialisation: at this stage, support focuses on investigating new cell lines to aid product development for partners alongside technical support.
Our porcine stem cell technology is ready to be developed and we expect our bovine technology to reach this stage by the end of Q1 2021.
If you would like to work with one of the UK’s most respected and established AgTech businesses in solving the global protein deficit and providing consumers with a choice that answers many of their concerns, we’d be delighted to hear from you.
Please contact Richard Freeman at email@example.com