Biomilq CEO flags personalized cell-cultured human milk potential following proof of complexity
04 Jun 2021 --- Biomilq is on track to launch its cell-cultured human milk in just over three years, following its proof of complexity – successfully producing milk outside the breast. Co-founder and CEO Michelle Egger speaks to NutritionInsight about the challenges remaining for the company, while detailing how it can address diverse demands from personalization to sports nutrition.
“While we’re still in our first trimester, this proof of complexity of milk outside the body pushes the entire field of lactation science closer to understanding the complexities of milk biosynthesis, both in the breast and outside the body,” emphasizes Egger.
Complexity of milk
Proof of complexity means that Biomilq’s product contains hundreds of diverse biomolecules that support babies’ growth and development. This milestone was achieved just 11 months after the proof of concept.
“Our latest work demonstrates that much of the molecular and functional complexity of milk can be achieved by replicating the intricate relationship between the cells that produce it and the conditions they experience inside the body during lactation,” adds Dr. Leila Strickland, co-founder and chief science officer.
Egger hopes the announcement will spur her team, researchers, policymakers and consumers to be “curious and creative problem solvers” in making highly nutritious milk widely accessible to consumers.
Achieving 80 percent cost reduction
Before launching, Biomilq must still learn more about how cells best thrive outside the body. It also must gain regulators’ approval and support, as well as ensuring that all safety boxes are checked.
“Additionally, cost reduction will always be one of our key challenges and key motivations to push our research forward,” notes Egger.
Biomilq has line-of-sight to be price competitive with formula and does not want to create a product that is only accessible to a certain population. “We want the nutrition of breast milk to be available to any parent who wants it, regardless of circumstance,” emphasizes Egger.
“Our diversely trained team is constantly strategizing cost reduction through strategic sourcing, input optimization and creativity. This year alone, we’ve reduced our costs by more than 80 percent. We look forward to providing a product that overcomes financial, geographic and time barriers that would otherwise limit access to another infant feeding option.”
Preserving donor cells
Another challenge is the lack of human mammary cell lines and research that has been explored for milk production outside the body.
To address this need, Biomilq is collecting and screening cells donated by people who want to support the company. It will preserve these donations in a mammary cell repository, and this resource will advance its research and support its production process.
“Considering the commercial implications and the long history of potentially exploitative practices in cell line development, we firmly believe that our process must be based on tissues obtained under explicit informed consent,” emphasizes Strickland.
“We are preparing protocols for independent ethical review and look forward to receiving the approval to offer our supporters the opportunity to co-create this product with us.”
Branching into new spaces
Biomilq also plans to start a custom B2C model to allow consumers to access personalized cell-cultured human milk. Clinicians can collect a consumer’s cells, which are then sent to its lab. There, they are cultured to create milk, which is sent back to the person.
While the company aims to create a human milk product for infants, Egger also recognizes that there’s growing interest from athletes and even some chronically ill patients about the supposed benefits that breast milk can provide.
“However, there hasn’t been significant research on the impact of breast milk on adults yet. We plan to focus our marketing and outreach to parents since we’re creating another infant feeding option, but understand that the nutrition of breast milk is quite intriguing to many,” she explains.
Not an exact replica
Egger also acknowledges that Biomilq’s product is not bio-identical to mother’s milk.
Cultured breast milk will not display the real-time composition dynamics that occur during feeding. These include factors like hormonal changes, baby’s cues, environment and skin-to-skin contact.
However, the milk will be free from the environmental toxins, food allergens and prescription medications that are often detected in breast milk.
Eying up the competition
While Biomilq says that it has produced the world’s first cell-cultured human milk outside of the breast, other companies are also active in this space.
For example, 108Labs recently revealed Colostrupedics “whole-human” infant formula, having discovered a novel secretory antibody biosynthesis.
TurtleTree Labs is also creating human breast milk using cell-based technology, with the company most recently signing a letter of intent with JSBiosciences.
Egger says that Biomilq is the only company that is holistically focused on infant nutrition through cultured breast milk.
“Aside from technological differences, our competitors are mostly focused on a licensing model for commoditized milk (dairy), not socializing the technology as a nutritional equivalent option directly with consumers as we are at Biomilq.”
She also states that TurtleTree Labs utilizes differentiated stem cells rather than mammary epithelial cells and is focused on milk ingredients, not whole milk.
“TurtleTree’s strategy is focusing on diverse channels to access the market through bovine milk, human milk and media in the culturing supply chain for cellular agriculture. We believe that it’s a strength for this space to have diverse groups working from different angles as this will lead to more options for consumers,” Eggers concludes.
In December, Eggers also appeared on Forbes’ “Social Impact” list of nominees for 30 under 30. The previous summer, Biomilq landed US$3.5 million in funding.
By Katherine Durrell
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