Gelatex’s CEO examines cell-based “gold rush,” closing €1.2M funding to scale scaffolding tech
26 Nov 2021 --- Gelatex Technologies is making moves to scale and enhance the production of nanofibrous 3D scaffolding material that could be used to grow cell-cultured meat.
The Estonian start-up has recently netted €1.2 million (US$1.4 million) in seed round funding, which will aid the development of cultured meat from terrestrial livestock as well as seafood.
CEO of Gelatex, Märt-Erik Martens, speaks to FoodIngredientsFirst about the sector’s anticipated “gold rush” led by Asian food-tech players. He emphasizes that while the seed round is an early milestone for the start-up, significant progress has been made in dropping the costs of this platform that imparts structural integrity to slaughter-free cultivated meat.
“Scaffolds mimic the extracellular matrix structure in meat, which is very important to grow tissue outside of a host. Our materials are also compatible with fish cells and also crusteacens, aside from beef, pork and chicken,” he remarks.
Gelatex is running multiple pilot projects with eight out of ten world’s leading cultured meat producers. “We have run enough tests to know that our cheaper nanofibrous materials can make a true difference in the texture of cell-cultured meat,” says Martens.
Currently, one kilogram of scaffolding material costs about €100,000 (US$112,000), he details. “Today, because of our technology, we are able to produce nanofibrous scaffolds at a price less than €1,000 (US$1,127) / kg easily.”
“If we stay true to our ambitions and keep scaling our technology, it will cost only €40 (US$45.07) in less than five years and €20 (US$22.53) in less than ten years. This is less than €1 (US$1.13) of scaffold per kg of meat. These high-performance materials have never been as accessible as they are today, because of our technology,” he highlights.
Synthesizing the structure of muscle tissue
Scaffolding is needed for manufactured cell-cultured meat production in order to give the meat structure. Without this scaffold, meat would be a paté-type mush.
Gelatex claims that popular electrospun and hydrogel solutions currently used on the market that are used to enable cell-cultured tissue products are around 90% more expensive than its own technology.
“If the currently popular manufacturing solutions persist, lab-grown meat will only be affordable for the richest of enterprises and individuals,” states the food-tech player.
Gelatex’s scalable scaffold gained backing from the US-based Techstars accelerator. Its most recent €1.2 million (US$1.4 million) seed round was led by Change Ventures and Crosslight Partners.
Next to cell-cultured meat, Gelatex’s technology is also applicable in scar-reducing wound care materials and bio-based filtration materials.
While still considered a nascent industry, cell-based scaffolding manufacturing is also being scaled by other specialists including Matrix Meats, which utilizes a manufacturing process called electrode spinning. With its technology, the company can input variables such as vitamins, minerals and growth factors into its scaffolds.
Asia to lead the cell-based “gold rush”
Rait Ojasaar, investment partner at Change Ventures remarks that there’s a “gold rush” ahead of industry and Gelatex’s nanofibrous scaffolds resemble the “picks and shovels” that cultured meat producers require to scale their products.
“I’d say in 2023 we will begin to see the first cell-based products become commercially available, not just in exclusive restaurants,” Martens envisions.
By 2040, cultured meat is estimated to make up 35% of global meat production. According to Boston Consulting Group, this alternative protein type will achieve price parity by 2032.
Gelatex anticipates that demand for meat will only increase in growing Asian markets, adding that as of now, cell-cultured meat is battling with the stigmas of “wrong texture” and “too expensive to produce it en masse.”
“I’d prioritize markets in such a way that Singapore comes first, followed by the Middle-East, US, Europe and finally the rest of the world,” says Martens.
Singapore, which recently greenlighted the sale of cell-based chicken, is home to cell-based crustacean meat specialist Shiok Meats. The company plans to launch shrimp flavoring paste and powder, fully-formed “3D shrimp” and cell-based lobster and crab products in the coming years.
Chinese public government records released this year have indicated that significant funds are being allocated to help the nation’s alternative proteins sector optimize and scale up. Last month, China’s first cell-based meat company Joes Future Food secured US$10.9 million to produce cultivated pork, as a follow-up to its CNY 50 million (US$7.7 million) series A funding round.
Elsewhere, South African cellular agriculture food-tech company Mogale Meat is developing solutions to future-proof its region’s inadequate nutrition and food security issues – including creating exotic cell-based meat from free-roaming antelope and cattle.
By Benjamin Ferrer
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