Biomilq’s cell-cultured breast milk scores US$3.5m investment
17 Jun 2020 --- US-based start-up Biomilq is one step closer to offering mammary cell-cultured human breast milk to families around the globe thanks to US$3.5 million in funding. The funding round was led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures and will allow Biomilq to scale and perfect its production process, expand its team, and collaborate with families, pediatricians and the lactation community. The company is ultimately aiming to have a product that is accessible to a broad consumer market, citing the challenges surrounding this in cell-based products, especially amid COVID-19.
“At Biomilq, we are cognizant that the unit economics of cell-based products skew socioeconomically high. We have to be thoughtful that for many consumers out of work and experiencing disenfranchisement, it will be a challenge to make our products accessible. We cannot let ourselves, or the cell-based industry, tolerate elitism if we look to create the societal and environmental change our world sorely needs,” Michelle Egger, CEO and Co-Founder of Biomilq, tells NutritionInsight.
The start-up is culturing mammary cells outside the body and leveraging their natural ability to produce all 2,500+ components of breast milk. It recently produced human casein and lactose, and the company believes it can fully replicate the nutritional profile of breastmilk.
“Parents are seeking more nutritious and functional options. We see the infant nutrition sector continuing to have to innovate on what components provide benefits to children, especially around immunity. We know a lot of the human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) of breastmilk are vital for immune development, but there is still so much more to learn. Biomilq is thrilled to help motivate the entire industry to serve the needs of infants better,” says Egger.
She adds that while there is no replacement for breast milk, the company believes it can harness the power of science, technology and nature to deliver comprehensive and sustainable infant nutrition. It aims to offer supplemental nutrition to mother’s milk with the practicality of formula – and none of the trade-offs.
Leading the funding round, Breakthrough Energy Ventures is a US$1 billion+ fund established by business leaders to support companies that leverage innovative technologies to help address climate change. Shazi Visram, Founder of Happy Family Brands and HealthyNest, also participated in the round.
A more sustainable alternative
According to Biomilq, 84 percent of parents transition to dairy-based infant formula before the recommended six-month period of exclusively breastfeeding. The company states that whether it’s due to low milk production, medical challenges, incompatible workplaces, or the ongoing stigma around breastfeeding in public, families feed infant formula out of necessity rather than preference.
“With rising populations throughout the globe and more parents than ever facing hurdles to provide exclusive breastfeeding, infant nutrition is essential to almost every person on the planet. Parents have greater opportunities to access family planning, are waiting longer to have children, and more women are rising in the workforce, forcing challenging trade-offs on families to feed their children during the first 1,000 days of life,” continues Egger.
The company is also highlighting the environmental gains that may be made by cutting out traditional dairy. “There are immense opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock used in the production of foods like dairy, and Biomilq offers a superb dairy alternative for the production of infant nutrition,” says Carmichael Roberts of Breakthrough Energy Ventures. “The company has created a first-of-its-kind product that not only offers a better solution for the environment but will also improve nutrition for infants around the globe.”
According to Innova Market Insights, consumers are increasingly concerned about the environment. In 2018 when the market researcher asked whether consumers expect companies to invest in sustainability, 65 percent of consumers responded yes. In 2019 that number went up to 87 percent. In particular, dairy launches with a plant-based claim have seen a 52 percent rise over the past five years.
Nutrition in the age of COVID-19
Egger believes that all families are thinking more deeply about the planet’s externalities based on the decisions they are making. “We are all worried that the natural places we love won’t look the same for our children. Additionally, plant-based products have thrived in the age of COVID-19, and animal supply chains have been brought to bear. People who before were not a part of the conversation around animal husbandry being problematic are seeing it show up and thinking critically as it applies to all parts of their life, infant nutrition included,” she states.
While Egger doesn’t think that that sentiment will last if things ever go “back to normal,” she says many parents seem open to discussing alternatives to conventional protein sources for their entire families, especially in light of protein shortages. “These times may be advantageous to speak to consumers who usually wouldn’t be listening, but this is a marathon, not a sprint in engaging broadly,” she concludes. In April, FoodIngredientsFirst reported about how COVID-19 is shaping the cell-cultured space.
However, Biomilq is not the only company active in the cell-based infant nutrition arena. In February, Singapore-based TurtleTree Labs revealed its own human breast milk created using cell-based technology. The rest of the cell-based industry – also known as cellular agriculture – has also been picking up pace in recent years. For example, consumers can now purchase Perfect Day’s ice cream, which features flora-made dairy protein.
Meanwhile, Shiok Meats will soon debut lab-grown crustacean meat, which uses 3D printing to add a desirable texture. BlueNalu also specializes in seafood and completed a US$20 million Series A round of funding in February. At the start of this year, the International Food Information Council predicted that cultured meat would be a major trend for 2020.
By Katherine Durrell, with additional reporting by Elizabeth Green
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