Biomilq announced today that the startup raised $3.5 million in their seed funding round. Based in Durham, North Carolina, Biomilq’s funding round was led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, an investment fund established by Bill Gates to support innovation fighting climate change. Other investors in the round include Blue Horizon Ventures, Purple Orange Ventures, and Shazi Visram, the founder of Happy Family Brands and HealthyNest.
Founded by Leila Strickland and Michelle Egger, Biomilq is an infant nutrition company that uses cellular agriculture to produce mammary cell-cultured human breast milk. Cellular agriculture is the field of producing animal products, like meat, directly from cell cultures instead of raising animals to produce the same products. Compared to conventional animal products, cellular agriculture offers an alternative and more sustainable way to produce the same products.
Biomilq and Cellular Agriculture
Breast milk contains thousands of unique molecules that nourish infants during an important stage of their development. While breastfeeding is one of the most efficient ways to ensure healthy development in children, it is not always feasible for mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies.
From low milk production and medical challenges to incompatible workplaces or the stigma around breastfeeding in public, 84% of mothers transition their babies to dairy-based infant formula before the recommended six-month exclusivity period. There clearly needs to be more options in early-stage infant nutrition for parents and caregivers to feed their newborns. Enter Biomilq.
By using mammary cell cultures, Biomilq aims to develop another way to produce cultured human breast milk that does not require a trade-off between a baby’s nutrition and the mother’s well being.
Biomilq co-founder Leila Strickland first began working on the idea of cell-cultured human breast milk from mammary cells in 2013. While completing her role as a postdoctoral cell biologist at Stanford University, Strickland began to hear about using cell cultures to produce food. And she was captivated by the idea.
“In 2013, Mark Post’s cultured meat burger was a pivotal moment for me,” Strickland shared.“It made me decide that I wanted to pursue this.”
Strickland and her husband moved to North Carolina and opened lab space there to begin her research. Through her research, Strickland learned about bovine mammary cells and how to modify cell culture systems to support the behavior of producing milk. Importantly, Strickland’s research explored how to design a system to scaleproduction of cell-cultured milk.
After researching the science for years, in 2019, Strickland decided that it was the best time to move forward with the technology. And that’s when Strickland met her co-founder, Michelle Egger, who had an overlapping passion for infant nutrition. A food scientist by training, Egger had worked in a range of positions relating to dairy production, from fermentation processes to dairy commercialization, and was intrigued by the technology’s potential.
The co-founders got to work right away. In February 2020, Biomilq shared their proof of concept for producing cell-cultured human breast milk. Biomilq confirmed that their samples contained the predominant protein and sugar components found in human breast milk.
Biomilq plans to use the round of funding to optimize its production process to bring their cultured breast milk product to market. The startup also plans to expand its team and engage its multiple stakeholders: families, pediatricians, and the breastfeeding community about its novel product.
When asked about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their work, Egger found that“infant nutrition doesn’t change through the test of time. Through any pandemic, war, and famine, infant nutrition stays vitally important through all of it.”
Strickland acknowledged that Biomilq was fortunate with their timelines.“We were lucky with timing for our research. We were able to get deep in the[research] process before we had to close down the lab. We did our proof of concept over the winter and had the results coming in just in time to coincide with fundraising.”
After learning how to run Biomilq remotely over the past few months, Egger shared that both co-founders are eager to get back to the lab and continue their work and research into cell-cultured milk. “If we can do all of this distantly, we can do everything!”
Biomilq is one of a few cellular agriculture startups looking to produce human breast milk. Singapore-based TurtleTree Labs also aims to grow mammary gland cells to produce mammalian milks directly. The Singaporean startup initially plans to produce human breast milk before focusing on other mammalian milks, including dairy milk.
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Ahmed Khan is a cellular agriculture consultant and passionate about the future of food. As the founder and editor of CellAgri, Ahmed shares the latest insights on a range of topics relating to cellular agriculture and how this field is emerging to provide a solution in sustainable animal products.