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Merck and Scaling Cultivated Meat: Optimizing Basal Media Development

This article was sponsored by Merck Life Sciences. Photo of cultivated salmon sushi by Wildtype.

As cultivated meat companies look to scale production, many key pain points in developing the field’s supply chain must be addressed. Considering how companies envision producing cultivated meat in large bioreactors, the field will need to consider the large-scale sourcing of its cell culture media.

We speak to Florian Geyer, the product manager for cell culture media products at Merck Life Science (operating as MilliporeSigma in the US and Canada), about how the company is positioning itself to become a key player in the field’s supply chain, specifically for basal media development.

From scaling cell culture media production to the importance of partnerships to optimize formulations, Geyer highlights the important role Merck plays in growing the cultivated meat industry.


Basal media section: “Companies will need [basal media] in huge amounts as soon as they scale up.”

 Interviewing Dr. Florian Geyer at the Meat Evolution Leaders Summit 2024 in Barcelona, Spain. Photograph by Lauren Poulin.

Having joined Merck Life Science two years ago, Geyer has been a product manager for the basal media business for over a year. According to Geyer, as cultivated meat companies plan to develop their cell culture media formulations, basal media is a key component of developing a company’s formulation.

“Basal media typically consists of amino acids, sugars, vitamins, and inorganic salts. That's the minimum each cell needs to grow, and that's why we call it basal.

“It is crucial for every cultured meat company to work on an efficient basal media formulation that shows or enables good growth performance and is cost-efficient, as they will need it in huge amounts as soon as they scale up.”


Basal Media at Scale: “We support cultivated meat [companies] along their journey”

Considering how cultivated meat companies expect to use plenty of cell culture media in the future when scaling production, Geyer emphasized the importance for companies to consider basal media considerations early on in developing their production processes.

“It's important to do experiments and research about basal media from the beginning because a cultivated meat company typically starts by building up its process and then scales it up.

“If you want to change the process after scaling up, it's much more difficult. So, you should agree early on a final formulation for your basal media.”

Cultivated salmon sushi by Wildtype

To support the field, Geyer shared how Merck works with various cultured meat companies at different stages of development and scale.

“We support any type of species [of meat] and cultivated meat customers along their journey: from the beginning, when they start on a very small scale, and then also in the upscaling process.

“As a result of our approaches, we have designed a process where we can produce small amounts of basal media of the same quality as on a large scale. This way, there is no difference when production is scaled up. At the same time, it’s important that we collaborate from the beginning.”

In addition, Geyer added that Merck works closely with cell-cultured meat startups to help them obtain all the materials they need for their cell culture media formulations as they scale production.

“At the same time, we are a supplier. It's very important that we can secure a stock of each raw material that [cultivated meat startups] will need in huge amounts in the future. So here, we need to work very closely with our customers to deliver successfully.

“Essentially, we are an enabler [for the cultivated meat ecosystem]. We want to support our customers and be part of their journey through partnerships and working together.”


Data Insights and Basal Media Optimization

While collaborating with companies in the cultivated meat industry, Geyer outlines how data insights about the cell culture media can play a role in how Merck works with companies. Through these insights, the Merck team can explore how to optimize cell culture media formulations to support the industry’s scaling efforts.

“In terms of basal media inputs, [data insights] refer to the performance of a cell line. You want to find out how, for example, a costly component, could be replaced.  Or, maybe, you don't even need it in the media.

“We have the insights in terms of costs, so we can give recommendations [on how to optimize the cost of a basal media formulation]. We will check on our own to see if we can remove [the costly components] or replace them. We can have a great impact on the costs of a formulation.”

In a previous interview, Amanda Pavlicek from the Merck Life Science team in the US (operating as MilliporeSigma) shared how Merck is working on developing food-grade raw materials to further optimize basal media formulations for cultured meat companies as the industry scales production.


The Role of Partnerships

Cultivated beef meatball by Mosa Meat

From supply chain development to downstream product distribution, it will be critical for cultivated meat companies to form a range of partnerships to come to market. Similarly, beyond working with cultivated meat startups, Geyer outlines the importance of forming partnerships for Merck to support the broader cultivated meat ecosystem.

“Looking at the cultivated meat space, we are closely working together with some of our customers on a broad range of topics.

“For example, to improve their basal media formulation, we have some projects ongoing with external companies. And [in these partnerships], it's very important for us to get data because there are still many unknowns in the cultivated meat space, and receiving correct and good data is crucial for us to evolve our business.

“In general, Merck is a company deeply rooted in basic science. We collaborate with universities around the globe and finance projects in scientific institutions working with small companies.”


Conclusion: “Our main focus is the future of food industry.”

Aleph Cuts' cultivated beef steak by Aleph Farms

Considering the field's scaling challenges, Geyer shared that Merck has experience helping companies through a range of services within its Biomonitoring Business. From pathogen testing and hygiene monitoring to regulatory support, Merck is closely observing the future of the food industry and can provide a range of support beyond basal cell media.

“Looking at the upscaling, I think we have great experience in Biomonitoring. Furthermore, we have a holistic oversight of the regulatory field, so we are closely observing any changes and responding timely if something comes up.”

For example, in February 2024, Merck launched a new white paper titled “Cultured Meat and Seafood: A Guide to Regulations, HACCP, Culture Media, and Quality Control." The paper highlights the importance of quality control throughout the cultivated meat production process, from the current regulatory landscape and applications of HAACP to the development of cell culture media formulations.

The white paper also showcases how Merck helps startups and companies advance their cell culture media for optimal performance.

Moving forward, Geyer shared that his team is looking forward to continuing to support the cultivated meat industry as it seeks to scale production. “Our main focus is the future of the food industry and the development of a more sustainable food system.”

This article was sponsored by Merck Life Sciences.

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