Andreessen Horowitz leads $22m series A at SCiFi Foods: ‘The first [cultivated meat co] we felt truly has the potential to both scale quickly and drastically reduce cost’

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Image credits: SCiFi Foods
Image credits: SCiFi Foods

Related tags: cell-based meat, cell cultured meat, cultivated meat, cultured meat, lab-grown, SciFi Foods, Artemys Foods

San Leandro CA-based Artemys Foods – which claims it has “a pretty clear shot at being the first company to bring cultivated beef to the market in the US” - has rebranded as SCiFi Foods and raised $22m in a series A round* led by VC firm Andreessen Horowitz.

The cell-cultured meat startup​, which was founded by Joshua March (pictured above) and Dr Jessica Krieger (who has since moved on to found her own cell-cultured meat co Ohayo Valley), is focused on bovine cell lines, and says its first products will be hybrid products combining plant-based proteins and cell cultured beef.

The firm – which deploys CRISPR gene editing technology to develop cell lines it claims can be grown more efficiently - recently moved into a 16,000 square foot R&D facility in the East Bay.

The plan is to start building a pilot facility by the end of the year so that it can produce a consistent product to get through the regulatory process prior to commercial launch, March told FoodNavigator-USA.

Embracing ‘lab-grown’ meat: ‘I literally had the idea for this company after reading science fiction’

Asked what prompted the rebrand, and whether consumers want to eat ‘SCiFi’ meat, he said that rather than shying away from the ‘lab-grown’ meat moniker, he decided to embrace it.

“You can give yourself the most positive, uplifting, natural sounding name, but the biggest question and concern will still be the fact that it's scientific. And so for us, rather than trying to hide that, we think it's actually much more powerful to just be authentic about it.

“When you speak to consumers,” ​March added, “It’s the younger generation who are most excited about ‘lab-grown’ meat, and that’s also the generation that most values transparency, authenticity, and also a sense of fun. I literally had the idea for this company after reading science fiction, and it's kind of amazing and cool that we are now making that future a reality."

On a more practical note, he said, “We're going to be launching into a very noisy alt meat market, so I knew that if we wanted to create a truly defining brand within that, we needed to do something very distinctive and memorable.”

SCiFi Foods
The SCiFi Foods website. It takes a ton of hardcore science to make cultivated meat, so why not embrace it, says co-founder Joshua March: "SCiFi Foods is not the future we fear. It’s the future we dream of...'

CRISPR: ‘If we make this tiny change, will our cells grow faster, will they grow at higher density, are they more robust?’

Asked what persuaded investors to part with $22m, he said: “We’re using technologies such as CRISPR to create animal cell lines that you can manufacture at large scale and low cost. We've already made tremendous progress in driving down the cost of growing our cells using that strategy.”

He added: “It’s not old school GMO technology, so we’re not taking DNA from one species and putting it into another. CRISPR allows us to make very tiny changes, which may turn off the expression of a single protein, which will shift the behavior of a cell, for example.

“And so we can go in and experiment and figure out if we make this tiny change, will our cells grow faster, will they grow at higher density, are they more robust? We just keep running engineering cycles until we get to cell lines that can grow at the highest density in larger bioreactors with lower-cost cell culture media.

“We know what KPIs we need to hit in order to be able to create products at scale profitably, and we see a very clear route to get there by continuous improvement.”

By constantly tweaking the cell lines, he said: “We've already found that we are able to reduce the amounts of some of the most expensive components ​[such as growth factors] in cell culture media, but our goal is to essentially remove them, or get them down to pretty insignificant amounts.”

"Cultivated meat will disrupt the trillion-dollar global market for meat products, with huge benefits to the planet. However, there are major cost hurdles, and SCiFi’s technology and approach was the first we felt that truly has the potential to both scale quickly and to drastically reduce cost.”Vijay Pande, general partner, Andreessen Horowitz

Maximum viable bioreactor size for large-scale cultivated meat production: ‘No one really knows’

When it comes to bioreactor size, asked whether bigger is always better, or if there’s a law of diminishing returns once you get to a certain size, March said that no one really knows what the sweet spot is for large-scale cultivated meat production.

He added: “We've spoken with a lot of experts in biopharma, and there's no fundamental reason that they stopped at 20,000 liters other than that they just didn't need to​ ​[go bigger]. But is that​ [sweet spot] 50,000, or 100,000 liters or more? No one really knows.

“We think that for our approach, it will be commercially viable to grow our cells in 20,000 liter bioreactors, which is about the scale that you see today in biopharma.

He added: "It would be ideal to get to 40,000- 50,000 liter bioreactors in terms of economies of scale and reductions in capex, but the bigger the bioreactor the more aggressively you have to mix ​[the contents], which creates challenges as animal cells don't have a cell wall​ [so they are more easily damaged] and the bigger the bioreactor, you start to get bigger variations in ​[conditions in] different parts of the bioreactor.”

‘We don’t believe some of these technologies [to create more structured products such as steaks] are ready to scale up in the near term’

Asked about texture, echoing comments made recently by GOOD Meat founder Josh Tetrick​ and New Age Meats founder Brian Spears,​ March said: “There's a lot of exciting R&D and innovation that's happening around tissue engineering, but we don’t believe some of these technologies​ [to create more structured products such as steaks] are ready to scale up in the near term.

“By taking our approach we can rely on the plant-based protein cost structure, and then bring in the cultivated beef to create that flavor and fat and deliver the experience of actual meat. And we can do this without any of this novel tissue engineering work.”

‘We don't think that an approach using microcarriers will ever be commercially viable at scale’

So what about microcarriers? Do SCiFi Foods’ cells need to adhere to something (such as edible microbeads) as they grow and proliferate?

According to March: “If you're trying to grow cells in a bioreactor using microcarriers, you're fundamentally limited in the cell density, and so we don't think that an approach using microcarriers will ever be commercially viable at scale.

“So that's an area where we're really focusing on: How do we use cell line engineering to get the cell lines that can grow without the need for microcarriers in the biggest bioreactors possible?”

The GM factor: ‘Fundamentally, I think the question is less about GMO, it's more like do they trust you as a company?’

Asked about attitudes to genetic engineering, he said: “The younger generation, Gen Z, they're much more comfortable with technology being used to create food, as long as it’s for valid reasons ​[animal welfare, sustainability etc] so I think if you can explain how it makes a positive impact, how it's safe, and that you're not trying to hide it, I think people will trust you.

“Fundamentally, I think the question is less about if you're GMO or not, it's more like do they trust you as a company?”

*​SCiFi Foods has raised $29m to date from investors including Andreesseen Horowitz, Valor Siren Ventures, BoxGroup, Entree Capital, and Prelude Ventures. 

 

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