Meatable’s incr-edible cell-to-plate success story
Meatable, which was founded in Delft in 2018, is benefitting from the huge upsurge in demand for both plant-based alternatives and new ‘cultured meat’ options.
Cultured, or ‘cultivated’ meat, involves animal cells cultured in a lab, allowing scientists to produce products indistinguishable from conventional meat, but without requiring animal slaughter. The concept has captured the food world’s imagination, with start-ups including Meatable racing to be the first to bring a product to the menu.
In theory, such a product could solve many of the problems associated with the global meat industry. Growing cells in controlled facilities would significantly reduce the chances of disease transmission from meat production compared with the traditional animal agriculture industry, alongside various environmental and ethical benefits.
However, the industry is still in its infancy - but all that is about to change.
Meatable’s “cultivated meat, without any of the drawbacks” product is created using the least harmful method to the animal. By collecting blood from the clipped umbilical cord of a just-birthed calf, Meatable reverts that tissue to a pluripotent stem cell, then cultures that cell sample into muscle and fat. The formula works for both beef and pork cells, and bypasses the need for resources such as land use, water, antibiotics and habitat destruction/carbon emissions association with conventional meat production.
The company was founded in 2018 by Krijn de Nood, now CEO, Daan Luining, now CTO, and Dr Mark Kotter, now scientific adviser. Based in the Netherlands, the duo engaged with Dr Kotter in Cambridge, where he had a start-up called Elpis Biomed, whose precise reprogramming of human stem cells was a topic of interest, the goal being to translate its efficacy to animal cells.
Elpis Biomed was founded by Dr Mark Kotter in 2016: Dr Kotter is today CEO of the Discovery Drive-based company, since renamed Bit Bio.
“My history with the founders of Meatable goes back to 2016 when I first met Daan, then CSO of a small charity supporting cultured meat research,” says Dr Kotter. “He introduced me to the concept of cultured meat and it took him less than a phone call to convince me of the importance of supporting his efforts. A few years later we got together to start Meatable.”
“My involvement in Meatable aligns very well with my personal values that led me to become a doctor and the goals of Bit Bio,” Dr Kotter continues. “It supports my decision to serve and make a difference. Besides directly helping patients as a surgeon, my aim is to transition biology to engineering to address some of the most important medical needs.
“My involvement in Meatable extends this remit to some of the major health issues that our Earth is currently facing: climate change, the ethical challenge of animal slaughter, the industrial use of antibiotics, and, as we have come to painfully realise, the increased chances of high density animal farming to trigger a global pandemic.”
With Meatable in a good place financially following a $10m seed funding round in December, the challenge is now to scale up production to meet demand.
Daan Luining, founder and CTO of Meatable, told the Cambridge Independent: “There are two ways for scaling the production of cultured meat.
“One, owning the entire production process where we would make and run many factories all over the world producing Meatable brand products. Two, disseminate the technology to other players as a licensing model where there will be many players making cultured meat but all using Meatable technology, ranging from the cell, that are made with the help of Bit Bio and the OPTI-OX technology, to the tissue cultivators for muscle production. Both options have pro’s and con’s and I don’t think it has to be an exclusive path.
“The reason we have these options to begin with is that Meatable is developing a strong IP position in which it can very confidently let other players use their tech.”
Whichever model is chosen – and it may be a combination of the two – Meatable is now in a great position to be able to give the food consumer and retail markets what they want: something that tastes, smells and cooks like meat, but without the environmental cost and the suffering imposed on the animal kingdom.
“One of the unique advantages of our technology is its scalability,” notes Dr Kotter. “I am not aware of any other approach that could match it with regards to speed, consistency, and scale. Meatable is 100 per cent focussed on developing industrial processes that meet the demand for the food sector.”
There’s one other factor that cultivated meat has in its favour: the coronavirus pandemic started with an animal which passed the disease on to a human: cultured meat avoids this troubling possibility, which means that its appeal looks unstoppable.