The global pull of the Cambridge life science cluster has prompted a UK startup growing meat products from animal cells to move its HQ here from Bristol as it chases a slice of a $1.4 trillion meat market.
Two-year-old Higher Steaks is moving into the Cambridge Science Parks new Incubator building and is already seeking to recruit stem cell scientists, tissue engineers and bioprocess engineers.
The company is also currently closing a seed round which CEO Benjamina Bollag says will get the business ready to pilot plant and secure necessary regulatory applications.
While in global terms a handful of US companies have a head start, Higher Steaks believes it has a market lead for a UK company in the precise segment in which it is operating.
Dr Ruth Faram, head of Research & Development, is moving to the new Cambridge HQ which chief scientific officer Dr James Clark formerly of PredictImmune is pathfinding.
Bollag told Business Weekly that Higher Steaks planned to leverage a number of unique selling points in a world becoming increasingly vegan and keen to seek healthier meat products or alternatives. She says the meat the company can produce from animals cells is better for agriculture, animal welfare and human healthcare.
Its meat doesnt contain antibiotics, is sustainable and does not require animal slaughter. Healthcare benefits are said to be numerous and its solution eliminates potential killers such as salmonella which causes around 420,000 deaths a year.
Using state-of-the-art cell culture techniques, Higher Steaks professionals extract a small sample of cells from an animal. They then expand those cells by feeding them a rich and animal-free growth medium.
When these cells have grown, they guide them to become muscle, fat and other types of tissue in order to form the desired meat product.
Early successes have produced the worlds first prototypes of laboratory-grown bacon rashers and pork belly.
Bollag says the pork belly is approximately 50 per cent cultivated meat to 50 per cent plant-based and the bacon around 70 per cent cultivated meat to 30 per cent plant-based.
The production of the first-ever cultivated bacon and pork belly is proof that new techniques can help meet the overwhelming demand for pork products globally, she said.
Our mission is to provide meat that is healthy and sustainable without the consumer making any sacrifices on taste: The prototype products represent a major milestone for Higher Steaks.
We have made substantial advancements in a relatively short amount of time whilst managing cash flow. We are accelerating the development of cultured pork products and the company is now focused on the next steps to bring our products to everyones homes.
One of the biggest challenges ahead is creating product at prices affordable to consumers and trade customers.
Bollag believes that increased global awareness of the risks of pork production will help the companys commercial viability long-term but stresses that getting the product right is more important to build a sustainable company with sought-after products than rushing to try to be first to market.
These are early days and our intention is to build a business and products that stand the test of time. That means getting the regulatory process rock solid and building a great team and solid financial foundations as we progress to every new stage of production. We believe the biotechnology cluster as it has evolved in Cambridge will be a tremendous asset for Higher Steaks as we continue to grow our team and technology. We are aware of the risks but also the massive potential in our marketplace.
The management team is highly experienced. Before founding Higher Steaks, Bollag a Swiss national co-founded a London-based B2B electronics company selling to FTSE500 companies.
She has also worked at Israeli 3D printing company, Stratasys, at the digital marketing division of PepsiCos joint venture with Strauss and was the lead developer an EdTech startup. She holds a Master of Chemical Engineering from the Imperial College London.
Dr Faram has over 15 years of experience working with stem cells and post doctoral expertise in induced pluripotent stem cells and epigenetics.
Dr Clark was chief technology officer of PredictImmune and has led the development of biotech and pharma products at early-stage and publicly traded companies.
The companys decision to move to Cambridge has been hailed as potentially transformative for the company and the sector by Tony Jones, CEO at the influential life sciences member organisation One Nucleus.
He told Business Weekly: In bringing this cutting edge biomedical technology to the region Higher Steaks not only gives the platform the best possible chances of success but also adds significant potential to the Cambridge cluster to be leaders in the rapidly emerging field of laboratory grown meat and the future of sustainable agriculture.