Cultured meat has a production capacity problem. Yossi Quint has a plan to fix it.

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Yossi Quint wants the cultured meat industry to succeed. However, to reach its potential, he believes the fledgling industry must overcome a major hurdle: a severe lack of production capacity.

Quint came to this conclusion while working at McKinsey, where he often worked on projects for clients in the food and beverage industry. During a deep dive into the cultured meat market, he became convinced that this new form of food production had the potential to be a multi-billion dollar industry, but would never realize its potential unless it cannot increase production by several orders of magnitude compared to its current capacity. .

To get there, Quint believed the equipment used to make cell-cultured meat — giant metal vats called bioreactors — had to be built specifically for the market. It’s because The bioreactors used by today’s cultured meat producers are generally modified versions of equipment made for the pharmaceutical industry, an industry whose unit cost is completely different from that of food.

From this challenge was born the idea of ​​his company. Ark Biotech builds next-generation high-volume bioreactors for the cultured meat industry. I sat down with Quint to discuss the challenges of hardware development for the cultured meat industry and the future evolution of the infrastructure market. Responses have been slightly edited for brevity.

Why did you decide to start the business?

I worked at McKinsey and had the opportunity to work with many different companies. And I had the opportunity to dig pretty deep into the cultured meat space and think deeply about what was needed in this industry to be successful over time – doing everything from analyzing the consumers thinking about how to scale down unit economics and scale. But, as I dug into scaling, I quickly realized that biomanufacturing would be the bottleneck for the growth of this industry. And that there are very few players, maybe none, who offer sensible solutions for the production of cultured meat on an industrial scale.

Today we see many companies building their production pilot plants. But over the next few years, as industry finds out and moves towards industrial scale, how big do you see cultured meat bioreactors becoming?

In the pharmaceutical sector, there is this trend towards smaller, single-use bioreactors. Single-use bioreactors are bioreactors with a bag inside that you turn off. These are very high OPEX (operating expenses), but it reduces the risk of contamination. But for blockbuster drugs, you still have 10-25,000 liter bioreactor tanks. There’s no reason cultured meat can’t be produced at this size or even larger.

What are the challenges in moving to larger bioreactors?

There are not necessarily intrinsic problems. There are challenges as you scale up; A contamination event has a higher cost because the batch would have to be discarded, so that’s a reason to think about minimizing the size, tips, or cap. But for us, it’s a very simple optimization equation like “each lot is worth X dollars of contamination risk because y, where along the curve do you want to play”?

There are some elements of thermodynamics, more physics and chemistry, such as where can you get cell culture uniformity in the larger bioreactor. And it’s the uniformity of oxygen, to make sure the mixture works properly. It is also to ensure that the temperature can be uniform everywhere.

A lot of what we’re working on is how do you design bioreactors in a way that’s different from what you’d see on the market today or from a specialized company, which could operate at larger sizes?

Why are large bioreactors so important?

We care about size because it’s just a major cost lever. As a CAPEX (capital expenditure) cost lever and an OPEX (operating expenditure) cost lever.

Explain what you mean by that.

As a CAPEX lever, you get economies of scale. A lot of the cost of bioreactors is manufacturing, and you just don’t need twice as many people producing twice as much. Most bioreactors have their own seed train (editor’s note: seed trains are used to generate an adequate number of cells for production bioreactor inoculation). If you double the size of the largest bioreactor, you will only need half the number of seed trains to achieve the same volume.

On the OPEX side, each seed train has workers who work, often 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to carry out experiments, modify parameters. And so if you’re able to double the size or triple or ten times the size, you don’t need ten times as many workers, you might need exactly the same number of workers.

Will all bioreactors be identical?

The bioreactors we design are widely applicable to a very large part of industry. There are extreme cases, but we try to have bioreactors that will suit 95% of companies.

But there are a few bioreactor designs we’re working on because if you’re doing a scaffold system it probably looks very different and you’ll need a very different bioreactor if you’re doing suspension cells. So we design different bioreactors to fit these different use cases. Things like media or animal type. have a large impact on the bioreactor parameters, but we do not believe that this changes the design of the bioreactor core.

The models will depend on their production methods. And you may actually have two models, you have one model, where their cells are still growing in suspension, so then you might want to get a formed product and go through a second bioreactor. So there are a number of companies that will have two production bioreactors today.

In the future, what will cultured meat industry production look like? Is it very centralized or does each city have its own “meat brewery” center?

If I had to say 10 years, it’s still going to be very centralized. We will have mega-factories. There are so many efficiencies you get at scale.

Will they be regional?

It could be regional. It just depends on the size we want to achieve. I don’t think there will be a single plant supplying the United States. It could be two or three factories in California that are very large in the same way that AB InBev only has a handful of massive factories.

Can you explain why large production plants are better?

One of the reasons I think larger factories make sense, at least as an intermediate step, is that we really think about COGS (cost of goods sold) in a very thorough way, a lot of which is like how do you get you really cheap access to any basic medium. And to get really cheap access, you probably want to be located near where the corn is shipped, or whatever your other big ingredients are. You want to be close to train tracks. You just want to get those upstream economies of scale. You also want to be co-located near cheap energy and preferably renewable energy. And so when you think about some of the inputs you want, and just OPEX, and also where there’s labor available, it’s harder to see a world where you have a small production plant which is in a skyscraper in New York.

Thank you for your time.

You’re welcome.

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