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Taking pharma technology and applying it to the food industry

Article-Taking pharma technology and applying it to the food industry

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Bioreactors are changing the food industry, enabling the production of cultivated meat, and various precision fermentation products like animal-free dairy, colours, flavours, and sweeteners.

The Cultivated B –  a cultivated meat subsidiary of Infamily Foods, one of Germany’s largest animal-based sausage manufacturers –  aims to solve key challenges of scalable and sustainable alternative protein production by focusing on technologies in cellular agriculture, precision fermentation, and bioreactor engineering.

The company operates as both a B2B provider of bioreactors, and is actively working to commercialise cultivated meat products. The company’s manufacturing facility, n!Biomachines, located in Ontario, Canada, develops and manufactures bioreactors for multiple industries, including startups, corporations, and academic research institutions.

But how exactly does the company use this technology? 

Fi Global Insights caught up with The Cultivated B team at Anuga Food Tech in March to better understand how the manufacturer leverages its bioreactor technology.

From bioreactor to final product

To understand the role of bioreactors in cultivated meat production, it is crucial to understand the process of cultivated meat. According to Forwardfooding, the first step in cultivating meat is choosing the animal and the specific strain of cells that will be used to cultivate the meat. Once the cells are chosen, they are isolated and expanded in the bioreactora vessel designed to provide an effective environment in which the cells grow. Bioreactors have a temperature control system, enabling heating and cooling, a sensor system to measure the environment, pH, and oxygen levels, as well as a piping system that delivers oxygen and nutrients and removes waste products.

Within the bioreactor’s vessel, cells duplicate and oxygen helps them multiply. Once the cells have reached a sufficient density, they are induced to separate into muscle, fat, and connective tissues.

The final step is food processing. The separated cells are harvested and processed, which can include grinding, mixing, and shaping the cultivated meat into various shapes and forms. The cultivated meat product is then packaged, and ready to be consumed.

The Cultivated B provides companies with fit-for-purpose bioreactors

Jitin Bali, chief scientific officer at The Cultivated B explained how the company works as a B2B company: “We provide solutions, technological solutions, raw material, and also finished products such as bioreactors to any [customer] who wants to go into the field of cellular agriculture.”

The Cultivated B provides companies with fit-for-purpose bioreactors, ranging from two litres for a small lab, and up to 1,000 litres for larger labs. When it comes to how companies are using The Cultivated B’s bioreactors, it varies. “We are flexible in that respect, leveraging our technology to whoever wants to use it,” Bali said.

According to Bali, some partners want to have control of the bioreactor itself, meaning they want to be provided with the bioreactor as well as a care facility for their particular application. Other partners want to work with The Cultivated B and have a system that focuses more on gradual growth, and with that, Bali said there come opportunities for more partnership.

Easy-to-use bioreactor equipment

The company has been established for almost three years now.  Bali said that while the company is relatively young, it is growing fast.

When asked what sets The Cultivated B apart from other manufacturers in the market, Bali said its technology was easy and intuitive to use.

The bioreactor’s control panel includes electronics from Siemens and sensors from Hamilton. “There are a particular set of recipes, that have been pre-programmed based on the knowledge that we have developed in the cultivated fields, and also the knowledge that is applicable and available in the research domain. [...] various kinds of cells require various kinds of ingredients and various kinds of parameters to grow at an optimal pace,” Bali explained.

As the recipes are pre-programmed, all that users need to do is hit the start button, and the bioreactor will do the rest.

Pharma industry technology for the food industry

“Bioreactors are typically derived from the pharma industry, which makes them quite complex instruments. They are typically used by PhD-trained science people,” Luisa Annelie Bäurer, who works in brand management and corporate communication at The Cultivated B explained. “So, if you want to transform biotech from the pharma industry towards the food industry, that comes with different expectations,” she added.

The first expectation is that the technology is user-friendly and easy to operate. The next expectation is that the bioreactor is fit for purpose, which Baurer explained means affordability. Bioreactors for the food industry do not require as many parameters as those made for the pharma industry, therefore the price point to build the system is lower. The last expectation is scalability, which means various vessel sizes are available to fulfill a company’s requirements.

The Cultivated B seeking novel food approval

In September 2023, The Cultivated B initiated a pre-submission process for novel food approval for its cultured meat sausages in Europe, aiming to become the first company to gain EU approval for a cultivated product.

These sausages are developed in collaboration with The Family Butchers, another subsidiary of InFamily Foods, and made with a blend of plant-based ingredients and pork cell cultures grown in a bioreactor. As of April 2024, there have been no updates on the certification process.

Also in September 2023, The Cultivated B and Natural Products Canada, an organisation that provides advice, connections, and capital to Canadian bio-innovation startups, announced a programme to accelerate the growth of Canadian startups using precision fermentation technology. Shelley King, CEO of Natural Products Canada, said: “The exceptional expertise and technology of The Cultivated B will help these promising companies scale their products to meet the growing market demand.”