cellular agriculture
Cellular agriculture startups are creating breast milk outside of the body
We've all heard "breast is best", but is it still necessary?
Move over formula!
Fresh with funding in 2021, a series of companies are creating breast milk outside of the human body. BIOMILQ, TurtleTree, Biomilk (similar name but different from Biomilq) and Helaina, to name a few, are poised to disrupt the alternate breast milk industry.

Milk is the liquid of life and adequate infant nutrition is essential for development and health. Breastfeeding, unfortunately, is still a struggle or impossibility for so many people. Consider mothers who struggle to produce or families that adopt or use surrogates. The diverse needs of people across the world makes new solutions necessary.
How does it work?
BIOMILQ and TurtleTree are producing cell-based human milk. Their process is similar to cell-cultured meat technologies. For example, BIOMILQ takes and grows human epithelial cells and expresses them in a way that they start producing their own milk. This summer, Biomilq announced that they successfully recreated human milk outside of the body. Their product is nutritionally equivalent to naturally-produced breast milk and can be produced by the cell lines of any specific person. This means that fathers, LGBTQ+ couples, or other caregivers can, theoretically, give their child milk from their own body, a concept that has received a lot of initial excitement during trials.

TurtleTree is also growing mammary gland cells that can lactate and announced earlier this year that their first commercial product will be lactoferrin--a key protein that helps babies fight infections and keep bad bacteria at bay. They plan to make human and other mammalian milks as well.

Israel's Biomilk is also taking a hybrid milk approach and developing both milk for babies and other mammals. They are the first cultured milk company to IPO on the Israeli stock exchange earlier this year.

Helaina, on the other hand, uses precision microbial fermentation to create proteins that are 99% identical to those found in breastmilk that offer the same immune benefits.
Photo courtesy of Biolmilq
Funding and roadmaps

Overall, investors in 2021 seem quite bullish on this emerging sector of food. Scalability and regulatory environments are still challenges for this sector. But with an influx of cash, commercial and market viability no longer seem like a faraway dream.

BIOMILQ closed their Series A financing round in Fall 2021 with a total of $21 million raised. This fundraising effort is on-par with other companies in the cellular agriculture industry. However, it is an achievement that BIOMILQ’s all-female leadership team is proud of, as they were able to raise the funds with partners that were aligned with their mission and values.

This round of funding allows BIOMILQ to continue to work on a product that can go to market, thought it will still be a few years before BIOMILQ is available to consumers. CEO Michelle Egger believes that 3-5 years is a conservative timeframe to allow for thorough safety and regulatory testing through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The final product is expected to be price-competitive with other top infant formula products. BIOMILQ wants to, ultimately, make the product accessible for all people regardless of income, so they plan to continually work to decrease the cost for low-income countries and families.

TurtleTree, a Singapore meets Silicon Valley company, closed their $30 million series A this fall--one of the largest investment rounds to date in Asia’s cell-based food sector. This fundraise is coupled with a $3.2 million seed and a $6.2 million pre-A fundraise. TurtleTree will use the funds to continue expanding its portfolio of sustainable, better-for-you food items. They just launched a new R&D facility in Sacramento, CA. With FDA approval, they will launch their first products in the US soon and hope to fully commercialize their products in the next 4-5 years.

Biomilk is one of eight companies currently listed on the Tel Aviv stock exchange. They will use this extra boost of funding to grow their R&D team and scale their innovative technology into dairy, alt-dairy, and nutriceuticals.

This year, Helaina announced a total of $24 million raised that will go towards the manufacturing and commercialization of their products. Because they use precision fermentation, a technology that's already viable and FDA-regulated, they don't have as many hurdles to jump through as the cellular agriculture companies. For example, alternative dairy ice cream brand, Brave Robot (made from Perfect Day's precision fermentation cow-free dairy) is currently available in the US with a B2C model.
The opportunities with alternative breastmilk are exciting, but they can also be overwhelming. Like any disrupting technology, it may impact society in unknown ways. And, because the product is aimed at child nutrition, the stakes are high.
Concerns and implications

Concerns have been raised over whether this technology will just become a replacement for actual breastfeeding. Biomilq CEO, Michelle Egger, is clear that BIOMILQ does not have the immunity benefits that breastmilk has and is squarely focused on providing infant nutrition. For this reason, she says that those who can breastfeed should still do so, with BIOMILQ as another alternative and option for those who can’t, or as a supplement to breastfeeding. Alternatively, Helaina touts their formula is more nutritious than breast milk.

There's also implications around how accessible these alternative milks will be in low-income populations. While it's a very cool idea to be able to have breastmilk from mom AND dad, are these companies ultimately going to scale their tech in such a way to achieve price parity with infant formula? Will governments step in to provide subsidies for this new-age tech?

Lastly, there are many unknown implications because this is a brand new industry. However, it's refreshing to see these companies seriously considering the ramifications of their products as they bring them to market. All are seriously considering the ethical implications for their product. For example, there's a possibility that this growing sector could commodify breast milk or have prices that only the very rich can afford. It could also lead to confusion for new parents on what is best to do. In addition to tech, alternative breast milk companies need to ensure they have in mind parental education, cultural norms, and accessibility.

Despite both the opportunities and concerns that come with alternative technologies, these companies are sure about one thing: creating human breast milk outside of the human body will ultimately support families and provide much-needed nutrition to infants around the world.

Want to learn more and hear straight from the CEOs? Check out my first podcast of 2021 with Michelle Egger of Biomilq and one of my first podcasts (ever!) with Fengru and Max of TurtleTree.
Subscribe to our newsletter to learn more and stay in the loop!
By clicking the Subscribe button you confirm that you have read and accepted our Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions.