Cellular Agriculture – forecasting innovation

In their recent article in Nature Food, high-profile figures in the field of Cellular Agriculture – including experts from Mosa MeatAleph Farms, and Memphis Meats – considered some of the technical challenges facing innovator companies seeking to disrupt the global meat industry. 

We anticipate an explosion of patent filings in the coming months and years as increasingly well-funded Cellular Agriculture companies focus their R&D efforts on making the improvements and refinements to contemporary technologies necessary to make cultured meat a commercial reality.  

This article explores the kinds of patent claims we might begin to see as innovator companies arrive at solutions to technical challenges through their R&D activities.  

Improving the cost-efficiency of production of cultured meat products

A major obstacle to the widespread commercialisation of cultured meat is the relative cost of its production.  While considerable progress has been made, production costs for even the most developed products are still many times greater than they will need to be for the mass market.  We expect to see patent filings with claims directed to methods, cell culture medium formulations and cell culture additives for expanding myocyte/adipocyte precursor cells with improved efficiency.  That is, methods achieving greater fold-expansion of such cells from a starting cell population of given size, or within a given period of time, and compositions for use in such methods.  

Relatedly, we anticipate filings relating to methods, cell culture medium formulations and cell culture additives for culturing myocyte/adipocyte precursor cells whilst retaining multipotency, ultimately providing for the production of larger quantities of muscle/adipose tissue from a given starting population of progenitor cells.

We also expect to see patent applications with claims to new methods, cell culture medium formulations, cell culture additives and agents for differentiating myocyte/adipocyte precursor cells to mature myocytes/adipocytes (and ultimately muscle/adipose tissues) with improved efficiency.  Such methods and compositions might achieve terminal differentiation in a shorter period of time, or a greater proportion of precursor cells might undergo differentiation within a given period.

Cell culture medium has been identified as one of the main drivers of costs for producing cultured meat products, due to the sheer scale of culture required for production of cultured meat in industrial quantities.  We anticipate filings on lower-cost cell culture medium formulations, and also expect to see claims directed to high-efficiency cell culture medium formulations, optimised for maximal conversion of culture medium nutrients to biomass.

The use of animal-derived serum and derivatives is a feature of traditional mammalian cell culture methodology that Cellular Agriculture companies will be working hard to innovate away from.  In addition to being a major contributor to culture costs, the use of animal-derived serum/growth factor compositions also raises safety concerns, and runs counter to the ethics position that many Cellular Agriculture companies hold so important.  We therefore expect to see claims to methods and cell culture medium formulations providing for the expansion of myocyte/adipocyte precursor cells, and differentiating mature myocytes/adipocytes, in the absence of animal-derived serum products, or in the presence of minimal quantities of such products. 

We might also see filings directed to animal serum-replacement formulations comprising combinations of recombinantly-produced growth factors, and also recombinantly-produced growth factors engineered for increased potency and/or stability.  We could also see claims to small molecule mimetics of growth factors, which might be less expensive to produce and more stable in culture than recombinant growth factors.

Species- and/or tissue-optimised cell culture, and production of cultured meat products with desired characteristics

Many of the contemporary techniques and materials employed for cell culture were developed for basic research in cell biology and regenerative medicine, with human cells or cells from model species (e.g. rodents, non-human primates, etc.).  We anticipate new filings relating to methods, cell culture medium formulations and cell culture additives for optimised culture of myocytes/adipocytes and precursors derived from livestock species 

We could see claims to methods and compositions specifically designed for the culture of particular tissues of a given species, and to methods and compositions for the production of muscle/adipose tissues with particular characteristics of interest.  For example, methods for producing tissue with higher myoglobin content, producing more ‘meat-like’ products.  This may involve techniques and formulations for enhancing muscle fibre formation and contractility, e.g. through mechanically/electrically-stimulated contraction.

Companies will be looking to produce highly-stable and reliable cell stock from which to expand cells for the production of their cultured meat products.  We therefore expect to see filings with claims to methods and agents for producing multi/pluripotent progenitor cells from somatic cells obtained from livestock speciesmethods and agents for immortalising myocyte/adipocyte precursor cells, and also claims to cells produced by such methods

Bioreactors, substrates and scaffolds

Of course, there will be also be innovation in relation to the equipment and techniques employed for the culture of cells from different species and tissues at the required scale.  We anticipate filings relating to new bioreactors providing for high scalability, providing sufficient agitation to minimise nutrient, pH, dissolved O2 and waste gradients while minimising sheer stress on the cells in culture.  We also expect to see filings relating to new cell culture substrates, such as e.g. microcarriers having novel chemical composition and/or structure for the optimal culture of myocytes/adipocytes and precursors.

As the industry moves towards the production of cultured meat products more closely resembling animal tissue, we expect to see claims directed to methods and articles (e.g. scaffolds) for the co-culture and differentiation of cells of different kinds for the production of complex tissuese.g. comprising muscle, adipose and connective tissue.  For example, methods may employ 3D printing to reconstitute naturally-occurring tissue architecture, possibly with the aid of appropriate scaffold materials.  We could see claims to novel, degradable or safe and palatable scaffolds, which may be used to form networks for perfusion of nutrients, O2 and for waste removal during production of tissues with a thickness greater than diffusion limits.

This article focuses on anticipated innovation in relation to cell culture for the production of cultured meat products, but inventions will also arise out of efforts to optimise upstream (
e.g. tissue harvesting, cell profiling and selection) and downstream (e.g. product characterisation, storage, etc.) processing and handling of materials.

It feels as if we’re about to enter an exciting new age of innovation in the field of Cellular Agriculture.  Read more about cultured meat in our previous blog here.

This blog has also featured in New Food magazine. View the article here.