“The cell lines we’ve developed proliferate indefinitely and produce millions of identical cells, at unprecedented purities and within a very short timeframe.”
How do we give more people access to affordable food? What can we do to ensure that our food production is sustainable? Netherlands-based company Meatable seems to have the answer. The company is able to take one cell from a cow, chicken, or pig to create animal muscle and fat cells that grow into real, tasty, guilt-free meat. The company aims to save the lives of millions of animals and will create clean, healthy, meat for consumption. This proprietary approach uses minimal resources to produce meat in just three weeks, making it the most sustainable and scalable way to feed the world, according to Meatable. Using its patented platform technology, Meatable aims to be the first company to produce the meats that account for 90% of total global meat consumption, namely chicken, pork, and beef, and plans to present its first product – a juicy hamburger – by next year.
Here, Bio Market Insights’ Liz Gyekye catches up with Daan Luining, CTO at Meatable (@itsmeatable).
Liz Gyekye (LG): What’s the story behind Meatable?
Daan Luining (DL): I come from a science background in molecular biology. I worked with Maastricht University-based Professor Mark Post in the Netherlands on the world’s first laboratory-grown hamburger in 2013 before joining New York-based New Harvest, an NGO funding academic research in cultured meat. I was research director here for a while. Whilst I was there, it got me thinking. I thought ‘there is a huge gap in Europe when it comes to cellular agriculture and cultured meat’. Subsequently, I started to meet a lot of interesting people in this space. I then started to think how to scale-up cultured meat at cost parity.
During this time, I met Krijn de Nood, who is the company’s co-founder and CEO. He has a background in business and was a consultant at management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, where he cultivated expertise in strategy development and operations. Together, we make a really great team. He takes care of the business side of things and I take care of the science side of things.
In August 2018, we started fundraising. Subsequently, we approached cell science company Elpis Biomed, who are based in Cambridge, UK, and acquired rights to use its technology for generating cultured meat. One of the inventors of this technology is a shareholder in our company. The technology can make a variety of cells. For example, a muscle cell or a fat cell, any type of cell you want. You can make these cells really quickly – at unprecedented speeds.
We think we can create a scalable, stable and affordable product that people can consume, instead of the expensive prototypes we have seen so far.
LG: How does your technology work?
DL: It’s like a command line for cells. The cell lines we’ve developed proliferate indefinitely and produce millions of identical cells, at unprecedented purities and within a very short timeframe. Essentially, we have a programme for liver, we have a programme for muscle, we have a programme for fat. The result is genuine tissue that does not require fetal bovine serum to grow – the standard cellular medium upon which cells usually feed.
The system we have developed is like a phone. The cells are the hardware of the pone. The software you install on this phone determines what functionalities it has. It’s the same with the cells. These cells need the software to have specific functionalities. This is what we do with our technology, we know what software to install to give it it’s specific functionality.
Some people are sceptical, but once they understand what we are doing they are more sympathetic.
LG: What were you doing before this role?
DL: I was interested in science and went down that route. I studied subjects like sequencing, cell culture, tissue engineering and cultured meat.
I graduated from the Netherlands-based University of Leiden, where I studied molecular biology. As I mentioned previously, after finishing my studies here, I then reached out to Professor Mark Post at Maastricht University. I basically owe Mark my entry into this field. I did research for him on scaling muscle cells. After working with Mark, I moved to New York.
It seems like only yesterday, but I have been in this cultured meat space for around seven years now. When I first started, some people thought I was insane. Nobody knew about cultured meat. Now, the situation is completely different. People are dying to try this meat and are cheering for us. I get dozens of applications from students and from scientists to come and work for us. At the moment, we do not have the capacity to take all of them. However, we are still building up our capacity. Currently, we are doing the work to get a stable production line. Cultured meat is a very hot topic at the moment.
LG: What’s been the biggest challenge in growing your company?
DL: Everyday! It’s not rocket science, but its’s close to it. Keeping the company growing organically is quite challenging. In addition, establishing an experimental set up with timelines and the building up of knowledge is also challenging.
LG: How is cultured meat perceived with the public?
DL: In my seven years, I can barely count on my one hand the people who have told me that they would not eat it. People are so interested and intrigued. They get this issue. There are people who do actually like meat, but will not eat it from an animal point or an environmental point of view. They are the ones that are most intrigued by this.
LG: What advice would you give to somebody who wants to get into this space?
DL: Start with a good idea. Just the idea that ‘we want to produce cultured meat’ is not enough. You have to have a plan and something that sets you apart from the other companies. This uniqueness could be technology or something that you could apply to the process that would help you achieve the scale that you need to produce cultured meat.
LG: What next for your company?
DL: In summer 2020, we are presenting our first prototype. So, we are working daily and nightly to make sure that we meet those deadlines. This will help us to show to people that our product works and that our technology is scalable.
LG: What’s your favourite sustainability product?
DL: There are so many. The variety of different products that are not animal-based that people can choose from is brilliant. For instance, you have the Impossible Burger and different types of plant-based milk. There are so many different types of sustainable products to select from.
Daan Luining, CTO at Meatable, is a confirmed speaker at SynBio Markets (Berlin, 18-19 November 2019).