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Biotech's Next Innovation- Lab-Grown Meat by Mickael Marsali

The biotech industry has some of the most interesting/bizarre trends you’ll find when researching investment opportunities. From prosthetic limbs to gene editing, biotechnology pushes the limits of what could be every day. One of the latest interesting trends to emerge in biotech is lab-grown meats.

Memphis Meats, a San Francisco-based startup company, recently announced their plans to become the first company to bring lab-grown meats to the market within the next three to four years. They plan to sell their animal-free products to high-end customers and establish themselves as a leader in the animal-free meats industry. Demonstrating their confidence in reaching this goal, they have already unveiled the worlds first lab-grown meatball.

But they’re not alone. A second company is also revealing its plans to sell lab-grown beef. Mosa Meat brought a lot of attention to the industry when it created the first stem cell burger back in 2013. According to Mosa Meat’s founder, Mark Post, the company will start sales within the next four to five years.

Lab-grown meat has quickly created a place in the spotlight for itself. And companies are competing to find new/different animal tissues they can grow in vitro for human consumption. The first attempts involved beef, then chicken, and now even pork.

Although biotech companies are making strides in their technology, popular opinion about the future of lab-grown meat seems to be split. Some say lab-grown meat will replace animal agriculture, while others insist it will be nothing more than a passing trend. Most of the skepticism surrounding lab-grown meats is based on whether or not it can translate into lower per capita costs than growing meat from animals. Because the lab-grown meat industry is still so new, determining what the exact costs of production will be once the science is perfected and comparing them to the well-established costs of things like growing a cow is almost impossible.

From a technical standpoint, biotech companies also still need to figure out what the best method of growing animal-free meats is. For now, companies like Mosa Meat and Memphis Meats are growing animal muscle tissue in bioreactors containing stem cells and nutrients. But they struggle to make sure these tissues remain well-oxygenated. Because lab-grown meats do not have a capillary system to transports blood and oxygenate the tissue, companies can only grow cells in very thin layers.

Moreover, biotech companies still have to work on the lab-grown meats’ growth medium. As of right now, the growth of these kinds of meat relies on fetal bovine serum, a nutrient-rich cocktail taken from the blood of unborn calves. Not only is this serum expensive, but it derives from calves, thus countering the whole point of the animal-free industry. Companies like Mosa Meat and Memphis Meats are currently trying to eliminate this problem by developing similar serums that are plant-based. It is yet to be seen if these experiments will be fruitful though.

When choosing biotech companies to invest in, it’s always important to keep in mind industry trends, while also making an effort to discern passing trends from long term investments. We’ll have to wait and see if these lab-grown meats can become a real competitor with established means of meat production, or if they’ll become another crazy experiment of the past.

Mickael Marsali is a Senior Consultant and founding member of Arterial Capital Management in London. To learn more about his life and career, please visit his professional website.