One of the greatest challenges the world faces today is how to sustainably feed our ever-growing global population without compromising the environment or human health. Compounding this challenge are rapidly rising levels of global food insecurity, persistent levels of food waste (although some companies are making a difference here), and a dangerous reduction in arable land caused by climate change. Beef, unfortunately, is one of the biggest culprits – the cattle industry is responsible for a majority of the deforestation of the Amazon as well as a top emitter of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gasses.
But in this crisis lies opportunity. Meat is a trillion-dollar market opportunity if one could find a way to address the current challenges. The plant-based meat space has grown dramatically in the last decade and attracted many supporters along the way. However, these products are still lacking in many important aspects, and it’s likely conventionally grown meat will always represent a bigger market.
Fortunately, science has advanced to the point where there is now the potential for cultivated meat – real meat grown from cells taken via biopsy from an animal. To do this, cells are isolated from tissue taken from, for example, cow muscle, and adapted or engineered so that they can continue growing. These cells are placed in bioreactors – large steel tanks with carefully controlled conditions – and once enough are cultivated, they can then be harvested and used as a food ingredient. Ultimately, the goal is to one day create products from 100% cultured meat cells. But while multiple companies have demonstrated that growing cells for ingredient usage is possible with different kinds of meat, the cost of these proofs of concept has always been astronomical.
This now leaves an engineering challenge: how can cultivated meat reach price parity with conventional meat – or (ideally) even be less costly? The most powerful approach to solving this conundrum would be to borrow from other areas of engineering and construct a design/build/test/learn platform that enables continuous improvements, and over a period of time, engineer a solution that can scale at a low cost. This is precisely what the SCiFi Foods team has done, and why I was excited to invest in them.
SCiFi Foods has been able to make rapid and significant progress in the space by adapting cutting-edge synbio strategies to develop a high-throughput mammalian cell line engineering platform. Using tools like CRISPR-Cas9 and liquid handling robots enables them to run multifunctional engineering cycles while also making continuous improvements in their cell lines. SCiFi Foods is using the less costly beef cells it can create to make products that combine plant-based and cultivated meat, which could solve two major challenges in these respective spaces: a lack of optimal taste in plant-based products and the difficulty of creating 3D muscle and tissue structures from 100% cultivated meat cells at scale. In dozens of taste tests of burgers made with both plant-based and cultivated meat, people have consistently expressed amazement at how a small percentage of beef cells can create food that tastes much more like real meat than anything that’s purely plant-based.
When I met Joshua March, co-founder & CEO of SCiFi Foods, he told me “I love burgers, but I want us to be able to eat them without destroying the planet,” and this really resonated: I love burgers too, but am eager for a more sustainable alternative that still tastes great. Josh was inspired to build this future after reading about the concept of growing meat outside the animal in a sci-fi book fifteen years ago. To make it reality, he teamed up with Kasia Gora, PhD, an accomplished scientist with a decade of experience in industrial bioengineering. They have built an incredibly strong team that is making rapid progress toward not only bringing cultivated meat to market, but redefining the way people believe it must be created.
Josh and Kasia are a dynamic duo combining their experience in technology and biotech startups to disrupt one of the biggest markets in the world, and in doing so, curb the consequences of climate change. I’m honored to support them and the team as an investor and board member, and look forward to helping SCiFi Foods become one of the defining brands of our generation.