US-based alternative meat startup Artemys Foods has rebranded to SCiFi Foods, officially emerging from stealth mode, and has closed a $22 million Series A round led by leading global VC Andreessen Horowitz.
The round, which will finance continued R&D on the company’s forthcoming cultivated beef burgers, was also backed by angel investor Peter Rahal — co-founder and former CEO of RXBar — as well as several other undisclosed angel investors.
How it works:
SCiFi’s strategy for developing and eventually commercializing cultivated meat has two key components: blending cultivated and plant-based meats and introducing a CRISPR-based gene editing process to the beef cells to make them proliferate more easily outside the cow, according to company co-founder and CEO Joshua Marsh.
- The company takes a “blended” approach to cultivated meat, wherein its first product, a burger, will be a mix of plant-based meat and cultivated beef cells. “Cultivated meat cells bring in the protein, the fats responsible for the flavor and the experience of meat,” says Marsh. Plant-based components make it faster and cheaper to get to market.
- Because SCiFi only leverages cultivated meat elements for flavoring, the startup can bypass expensive, time-consuming steps like tissue engineering, scaffolding, or 3D-printing, which are required for more structured types of cultivated meat. (Think whole-cut steaks, for example.)
- SCiFi is also bioengineering beef cells using CRISPR technologies. Without divulging too much about the actual process, Marsh says the process can shift the behavior of cells and enable them to grow at larger scale for a lower cost.
- “We’re able to go in with tools like CRISPR and make these very tiny changes: delete a single base pair of DNA, turn the gene off, etc,” he explains. “That’s sufficient to shift the behavior of the cells, often in a small way, to make them more amenable to growing in a big bioreactor instead of a cow.”
- Thanks to CRISPR technologies, the resulting product is purely beef DNA without traditional genetic modification.
Why it matters:
Beef is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to food production and climate change. It’s also one of the most in-demand meats around the globe and particularly in the US, where beef consumption per capita remains higher than almost any other country in the world. Thanks to inflation, many consumers are also shifting towards lower quality, value cuts of meat such as ground beef.
Theoretically, all of this combined would add up to a wide open opportunity for companies hoping to develop cultivated beef analogues. Marsh argues this is not the case right now in the current cultivated meat industry.
“Everyone’s going to chicken,” he says. “At least from our understanding, cells for ground chicken products can be manufactured in bioreactors without the need for genetic engineering.”
He says no one has yet been able to do the same for beef, at least not in a way that would be cost effective.
Mosa Meat, for example, unveiled the world’s first cultivated beef burger in 2013 to the cool tune of $300,000 per patty; the company has since brought down that cost but has yet to release an actual product due to regulatory requirements and “scientific unknowns.”
Regulatory requirements aside, Marsh believes that SCiFi’s bioengineering process combined with the company’s blended approach to burgers will allow it to get to market faster at a more affordable price point.
“We see this as the missing link to be able to solve some of these big challenges of manufacturing cultivated meat at epic scale and [at] a cost which actually makes it affordable as a food product,” he says.
What’s next for SCiFi Foods
The Series A funding will primarily go towards R&D as well as marketing strategies and new hires.
- All of these efforts are in preparation for submitting something to regulators. The company gave no timeframe for that process, with Marsh only saying SCiFi is currently “very engaged with regulators.”
- The company has not yet specified a time for when its products will reach consumers. SCiFi plans to build a pilot facility as part of the build up to commercialization.
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