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At last! Brexit benefit identified by Cambridge biotech as £12m new agri-hub launched in cultivated meat sector

A Cambridge biotech which manufactures high-purity, animal-free products for life science applications has identified the cultivated meat sector as an ideal opportunity for post-Brexit Britain to surge ahead.

Qkine, which was spun out of the University of Cambridge, has joined the UK’s new £12million cellular agriculture manufacturing hub, CARMA – the Cellular Agriculture Manufacturing Hub. The hub has received £12m funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to look into the production of cultivated meat and alternative palm oil at scale. Cultivated meat is grown from animal cells and requires no land, suffering, feed or pesticides.

Scientists Catherine and Marko Hyvönen spun Qkine out from Marko’s biochemistry lab at the university in 2016. Marko had been providing growth factors to the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute for over a decade, helping establish global stem cell culture protocols. Their aim was to become the source of the highest quality growth factors available - and add a dose of growth factor innovation.

“We’re building really good science in the UK,” Catherine told the Cambridge Independent, “and part of that is building a supply chain for cultivated meat and cellular agriculture across the academic sector, across the supply chain, across the end user, and across government to - as a country - make a difference in the food chain for cultivated meat, and also reduce zoonotic risks in the supply chain.

“That’s why we’re forming this manufacturing hub, and the UK government is identifying this as a priority. Leaving the European Union means we now have the capability to take something to market in the UK without having to have the sign-off from every European nation.”

The EU has faced challenges in coordinating a Europe-wide farming policy. Its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which came into force earlier this year, has been criticised as unfair towards smaller farms and rural communities, with Le Monde saying it “maintains production practices that are not sustainable in the face of climate and biodiversity challenges, and weakens European cohesion”.

The UK now faces different challenges, says Catherine.

“We need a supply chain for meat markets that meet the regulatory requirements of that market, in which alternative meat is called ‘novel foods’. The UK now has the potential to develop another framework for the new regulatory requirements.”

Working with CARMA will bring collective benefits, Catherine adds: “Rather than have every individual company reinventing the wheel, for the 10 to 15 global manufacturers we work with already, as part of their supply chain we can sit outside their investor needs and help build a credible base.

“What we’re trying to do, in our small area of the supply chain, is to make the process simpler and more compatible with large-scale manufacturing – and also better adapted.”

The hub is funded by the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) – the funding arm of the British Research Council – to develop new approaches to making food products as part of £120m earmarked for R&D in last year’s Government Food Strategy policy.

Led by the University of Bath, the project was co-created with 11 companies, including strategic partners Qkine, Veolia and Merck, and UK-based cultivated meat companies including Hoxton Farms, 3D Bio-Tissues, Roslin Technologies, Cellular Agriculture, Ivy Farm and Quest Meat. The cellular agriculture hub will help British scientists and companies make cultivated meat at scale – creating, along the way, an environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable model in which novel manufacturing systems complement traditional food production.

Marianne Ellis, professor of bioprocess and tissue engineering at the University of Bath, and founder and CTO of Cellular Agriculture, is leading the multidisciplinary hub. She said: “I am incredibly excited and thankful that the EPSRC have recognised the opportunities the emerging field of cellular agriculture brings to achieving net zero and addressing food security.

“We have an exceptional team spanning upstream and downstream processing, underpinning biology, upstream (consumer) engagement, supply chain, and life cycle assessment.

“Our initial focus will be the tissue-engineered cellular agriculture product, cultured meat, and the precision fermentation product, alternative palm oil.”

The National Farming Union was approached for comment.

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