Entrepreneur Guy Nevo Michrowski is a vegan who loves meat. Although technology has already been his life for 25 years, before he worked with computers in a laboratory, he worked with knives in a kitchen. “I was a chef before I started in the tech business.” he recalled.
“Eleven years ago, I became a vegan. And I still love meat. So that’s a problem.”,
The problem is, in fact, bigger than that in the eyes of Michrowski, who after avoiding all animal-based foods realized that he was not only in the minority, but that he would continue to be. “People aren’t going to go vegan and stop eating meat because people love meat and believe they need it for protein.”,
Indeed, it is predicted that the global demand for protein of animal origin will double by 2050, resulting in concerns about sustainability and food security.
The entrepreneur doubts that plant-based alternatives will truly replace meat by mimicking the taste, texture, aroma and nutritional profile. “On occasion, I offer my kids plant-based meat analogs. They’re kind, but they basically throw it out the window.” he thought – only half joking.
Michrowski concluded that ‘actual’ meat cannot be removed from the menu. But it must be produced in a different way, with sustainability and food safety in mind. A proponent of the cell cultured meat sector, Michrowski – along with co-founder Dr Tamar Eigler-Hirsch – founded Profuse Technology in Northern Israel, where it is a member of the Fresh Start incubator.
Not a cell-based meat company, Profuse instead supplies cell cultured meat producers.
Activation of a biochemical signaling pathway for efficient muscle building ,
Unlike Michrwoski, who serves as CEO of Profuse Technology, co-founder Dr Eigler-Hirsch comes to the business with an academic research background. Dr Eigler-Hirsch is the CTO of Profuse.
While investigating the various regenerative effects of muscle at the Weizmann Institute of Science near Tel Aviv, Dr Eigler-Hirsch found himself “playing” with muscle stem cells in a laboratory.
“We identified a molecular pathway in muscle stem cells that regulates the process of muscle formation very strongly and efficiently.” she recalled. Eigler quickly saw the potential this technology could have in cell cultured meat.
Improving the efficiency of muscle differentiation and formation in the cultured meat industry ‘definitely’ requires intervention, according to the CTO. “It’s a big white space, and that’s where we come in. We enhance this natural biological process by making it more efficient.”,
Profuse’s technology works during the differentiation and maturation phases of the myogenesis process. This process – which culminates in the creation of muscle – typically accounts for 50% of the cost of producing cultured meat.
Applying Profuse’s technology encourages muscle stem cells to fuse with each other and continue to fuse until ‘very long’ muscle fibers are created, Dr Eigler-Hirsch explained. This is important since it is the muscle fiber itself that provides the organoleptic experience and nutritional value when meat is consumed, she continued.
A small molecule ‘cocktail’ to help achieve price parity,
The ‘cocktail’ is made by combining a ‘mix’ of materials that ‘push the right buttons’ in the adjustment mechanism, CEO Michrowski explained.
“Many of the materials are natural and are already used in food. They are small molecules with no animal ingredients. Many of these are already used in the food industry and some are small molecules that we have found to be effective.”,
Without it, our biological system is naturally ‘protective’ of the stem cell population. With the supplement, that protective mechanism is removed and allows “all the stem cells” to build the protein “factory” in the fibers, Michrowski elaborated. “It makes that natural process happen much faster and at a higher rate.”,
The supplement – or ‘bountiful cocktail’ as the start-up calls it – is added to the growth or differentiation media as a single administration. It works in both fetal bovine serum (FBS) and serum-free media.
The result is, according to Profuse, cell cultured meat with up to 2-2.5 times more muscle, 4-5 times more protein, reduced production times and the potential to achieve price parity with conventional meat: Profuse claims that its additive can cut production costs by up to 40%.
‘Undetectable’ supplement in the final product ,
As a B2B company, Profuse is already working with the ‘vast majority’ of the leading cultured meat companies to help reduce costs, improve nutritional value, texture and protein content. Players are located throughout Europe, USA, Israel and Asia Pacific.
In these companies’ final products, Profuse’s media supplement is ‘undetectable’. “Only a very small amount is put into the process,” explained the CEO. “By the time the meat is cooked, it’s basically undetectable because the residue is so small.,
“It’s a processing aid, rather than a GRAS material or a food additive.”,
Profuse is in the process of certifying its supplement with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It expects this process to be completed by mid-2023.
As a processing aid, regulation is less of a challenge for Profuse than it is for cell-based meat companies producing novel foods. “They will have to submit a Novel Food application. [If they use our technology] that will also include our data and regulatory infrastructure, which we are already preparing for them.”,
It is also a ‘big challenge’ for the regulator itself, Guy added. However, the CEO is optimistic that once adopted, ‘good’ cultured meat processes can help improve food safety and reduce the negative environmental impact of conventional food production.
“We need cultured meat, [otherwise] we don’t have enough meat to feed the population. Food security is the first thing.,
“And the second is the environment: the production of cultured meat is more sustainable and reduces trust [limited natural resources]. We make that process even more efficient.”,
Overcoming the scalability challenge,
A common challenge among cell cultured meats is achieving scale. This is not a direct concern for Profuse, which makes its ‘cocktail’ with materials ‘already produced in high volumes’. “Fortunately, we don’t need to build any manufacturing scale because the supply chain is already producing those components. So we don’t have a growth challenge.”,
Indirectly, however, scale remains an obstacle. When Profuse’s customers transfer their technology from a lab scale to a 2L bioreactor, and then to a ‘hundred litre’ capacity bioreactor and eventually up to ‘thousand litres’, the process changes, the CEO explained.
“We need to be sure that we are able to adapt and optimize what we do with their dynamic processes. Different clients use different approaches on different cell lines and with different species. Some of them use scaffolding, others use the technology of increased printing or suspension.,
“That’s where the muscle is [grows], so we should be able to recognize those approaches and adapt our mix. This is our challenge.”,
The CEO continued: “This means working closely with our customers and sharing information. That’s the only way to go when an industry has such a big challenge ahead: you have to work together.”,