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Cocoon Bioscience CEO Joshua Robinson. Image credit: Cocoon Bioscience

Exclusive: Cocoon Bioscience closes $16m round to turn moths into bioreactors for cultivated meat

March 20, 2023

  • Cocoon Bioscience has closed a 15 million ($15.9 million) round to grow its high-value proteins business, which includes developing recombinant proteins for cultivated meat growth media.
  • The company will use the new funds to scale its business and build out its forthcoming production facilities in Spain.
  • Columbus Venture Partners and Cleon Capital led the round with participation from Viscofan, North South Ventures and others.

How it works:

Founded in 2022, Madrid, Spain-based Cocoon Bioscience originally spun out of biotech company Algenex, which had focused in large part on producing vaccines for animal healthcare faster and more efficiently.

Cocoon Bioscience is currently focused on two products: specialty enzymes for industrial biotech processes such as mRNA synthesis and genetic sequencing; and (ii) high performance growth factors for the alternative protein industry, including cultivated meat.

Instead of using microbial fermentation via big steel vats, researchers at Algenex leveraged caterpillar loopers as bioreactors. It is on this foundation that Cocoon Bioscience’s platform is built.

“You inject each cocoon with a little bit of Baculovirus and [the system] encodes for whatever vaccine products you want to make,” Cocoon Bioscience CEO Josh Robinson tells AFN. “It’s kind of like leveraging cocoons as natural, low-cost bioreactors. When [humans] catch a virus like a flu, we make a bunch of mucus. Similarly, these moths catch this virus Baculovirus and make whatever protein or enzymes are sequenced into that virus.”

The Baculovirus Expression Vector Systems, or BEVS, is a powerful system that can increase the speed of expression of many protein families.

Why it matters:

For alternative proteins, this could translate into faster development times on products. Cocoon Bioscience says its method is also a lower-cost production route than traditional bioreactor-based production.

“Cultivated meat companies need to manufacture whatever meat they’re producing in large-scale bioreactors,” says Robinson. “But the growth factors, those high-value, hero ingredients, have to program the bovine cells to perform the way they need to. Those growth factors are traditionally produced in bioreactors, and it becomes really expensive if you’re doing that in the traditional way.

“Pricing is hundreds of dollars for milligrams,” he adds. “Our system takes away the need for the bioreactor for that portion [of the cultivated meat process].”

Where funding will go:

Robinson says the new funding will primarily go towards scaling the business. “2023 is about building and completing our industrial-scale manufacturing facility where we’ll be able to produce kilograms to tens of kilograms of these growth factors as well as these enzymes to meet scaling demand for our current partners and those that have expressed interest in working with us.”

The facility will be in Bilbao, Spain, and is slated to be fully operational in 2024.

“We have a product, we’re selling it today, we just need to make more of it,” says Robinson. “We’re selling it at a price point that’s already lower than anyone else, and this platform develops new products extremely quickly.

“Our proof of concepts, from knowing what we want to make to having a sample ready to test is an 8- to 10-week process.”

“Cultured meat represents an exceptional opportunity to face the challenge of providing a sustainable diet to a population of more than seven billion people. To produce cultured meat, it is key to have growth factors that reduce costs and allow the industrialization of the process to be accessible on a large scale” Iñaki Recalde, chief diversification and technology officer at Viscofan, said in a statement.

Javier García, managing partner of Columbus Venture Partners, added, “We are very pleased with Cocoon’s launch. The potential is immense as it marks an important milestone in Cocoon’s strategic vision of disrupting both the specialty enzyme and cultivated meat sector. It comes after years of perfecting the technology at predecessor company Algenex. It also represents another sign of our commitment to create a production innovation ecosystem in the Basque Country.”

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