Uncommon bags 28 million euros to scale lab-grown meat using RNA technology

Livestock worldwide contributes 14.5% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Our food systems need a major overhaul, not to say a revolution, if we are to have a chance to feed a growing population while ensuring that there is still a planet worth populating .

Part of that refurbishment takes place in the laboratory, where cell biology is central. With global meat consumption showing no signs of slowing down (in fact quite the opposite), cellular farming could be one of the keys to reducing livestock-related emissions.

British cultured meat startup Uncommon announced today that it has raised $30 million (€28 million) in Series A funding. The round was led by Balderton and Lowercarbon, as well as angel investors in the form of Sam Altman (of OpenAI fame) and his brother Max.

Patent pending RNA technologies

Founded in 2018 and based in Cambridge, Uncommon uses RNA technology to grow bacon and pork belly from pig cells. If RNA sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because of the mRNA vaccines that have been developed to fight COVID-19. RNA stands for Ribonucelaic Acid, a molecule that contains the instructions or recipe that directs cells to make a protein using their natural machinery.

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“As the only cultured meat to utilize RNA technologies, we believe we have a competitive advantage that could help us become the largest protein company in the world,” said Benjamina Bollag, founder and CEO of Uncommon.

The cultured meat startup has now raised a total of around 35 million euros, including a £1 million (€1.16 million) Innovate UK grant. The final round will focus on further reducing the cost of goods, the regulatory filing process and scaling up production at a pilot production facility at Cambridge Technopark. In addition, the company says it will double its team over the next 18 months.

Will cultured meat succeed where plant-based alternatives seem to have failed?

Investors who supported the initial rush to plant-based meat alternatives haven’t had much fun in recent years. But if the failure to capitalize on the early enthusiasm for vegan meat substitutes proved anything, it’s this: people won’t stop eating meat, even if the future of the planet depends on it.

While the taste and texture of plant-based alternatives have come a long way, they can’t fully replicate real meat. Lab-grown meat doesn’t have that problem because it’s, well, real meat.

Cells are taken from an otherwise unharmed animal and then grown in a laboratory setting. Unusually, the individual cells transform into induced pluripotent stem cells in a process called “reprogramming,” a technology that won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 2012.

The costs associated with the technology have so far been a barrier to commercialization (and that’s to say nothing of regulatory hurdles yet to be overcome). However, companies in the industry argue that scaling up production will reduce costs to the point where products will reach price parity with conventional meat in a few years. Indeed, Uncommon says it wants to own 5% of the global pork market by 2035.

Investment in cell farming in the UK is booming

Analysts differ in their estimates, but the cellular farming market could be worth hundreds of billions by 2040; an attractive proposition for investors willing to play the long term and potentially do something good for the planet. worldwide, the cultured meat industry $869 million (€806 million) in venture capital funding in 2022, up from $1.3 billion (€1.2 billion) in 2021. In the UK, however, investments are increased by 400%.

While most people have come to know him as the CEO who brought ChatGPT to the world, Sam Altman is an avid startup investor. He has supported more than 100 companies over the years, including several biotech startups, e.g. Elon Musk’s Neuralink.

Securing food supplies

CCultured meat may be one of our best bets when it comes to reducing the slaughter of 200 million animals a day and reducing the massive emissions and overuse of antibiotics associated with land use and factory farming. Moreovercan it help with food security.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the first country to approve cultured meat for human consumption – Singapore in December 2020 – imports 90% of its food. The US also approved the first cultured meat product (chicken) in November 2022.

The EU could be in a bit of trouble, however, as the Italian government recently backed a bill that would ban lab-grown and other synthetic meats in the name of cultural food heritage. Although, as it’s the country’s 68th government in 76 years, things could still change as the technology matures commercially.