Modern Meadow Grazes on $10M to Grow Leather Without Cows

Xconomy New York — 

Just because you like to eat meat or wear leather doesn’t mean you’re all that happy about the way these products are made. Few guests at Outback Steakhouse, for example, would really enjoy going out back to slaughter their own steer. And we can probably all agree—whether we’re carnivores or vegetarians—that the cattle industry is an environmental nightmare. (Raising the protein in a quarter-pound patty of beef takes 7 pounds of feed and 53 gallons of water, and releases 13 pounds of carbon dioxide.)

What if there were a low-impact way to produce edible meat and usable leather, without killing any animals? That’s the idea New York-based Modern Meadow is exploring, and it’s just raised $10 million in Series A venture funding to expand its research facilities in New York.

The company is led by Andras Forgacs, 37, who previously co-founded Organovo, a San Diego-based developer of bioprinting devices for tissue engineering, with his father Gabor Forgacs. Modern Meadow isn’t using bioprinting technology per se to develop so-called “cultured” meat and leather products, but the younger Forgacs says the company’s R&D efforts draw on the same general expertise in biofabrication and tissue engineering.

Bioassembly is “necessary but not sufficient” for giving cultured meat and leather the look and feel of their traditional counterparts, he says. To give lab-cultured products the texture and flavor of meat, or the toughness and aroma of leather, the company will have to figure out how to feed and grow muscle and skin cells in complex structures, on a large and efficient scale—ideally without the aid of a traditional animal-derived liquid culture medium such as fetal bovine serum.

Up to now, Modern Meadow has operated mainly from offices in Columbia, MO, and NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, CA. Forgacs says the company will use the new funds—which come from Horizons Ventures, the venture fund of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing—to open an expanded research headquarters at the Brooklyn Army Terminal in New York.

Modern Meadow is already experimenting with cultured-meat “chips.” But before it tackles meat production in earnest, the startup intends to develop high-performance cultured leather with properties that make it more versatile than actual leather. Leather products are a lucrative, $63 billion market, and Modern Meadow has a “truly innovative and disruptive” solution that could address global resource challenges by reducing the required materials and processes, Bart Swanson, managing director at Horizons Ventures, said in an announcement today.

The core Modern Meadow team (L to R): Gabor Forgacs, scientific founder and chief scientific officer;  Ryan Kaesser, first employee; Karoly Jakab, founder and senior scientist; Andras Forgacs founder and CEO; Francoise Marga, senior scientist.

The core Modern Meadow team (L to R): Gabor Forgacs, scientific founder and chief scientific officer;
Ryan Kaesser, first employee; Karoly Jakab, founder and senior scientist; Andras Forgacs founder and CEO; Francoise Marga, senior scientist.

Andras Forgacs traveled to Yountville, CA, on June 3 to speak about Modern Meadow at Xconomy’s 2014 Napa Summit (where Xconomy CEO Bob Buderi became one of a small number of notables who have sampled the company’s cultured-meat chips). I grabbed Forgacs during a break in the action to ask about the company’s history and goals and the new funding round. Here’s an edited write-up of our conversation.

Xconomy: Tell me the backstory of Modern Meadow. Where did the idea come from?

Andras Forgacs: I was a co-founder at Organovo, where we focused on developing technology around tissue engineering and 3D bioprinting of human tissue. We figured, if we can create human tissue that can be used for drug testing and drug development, and in the future for therapeutic applications, then what else can we do with this kind of technology?

It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to think that if I can grow muscle for medical purposes, I can grow meat. And if I can grow human skin that can be used for burn victims and wound healing, perhaps I can grow animal hide or skin for other purposes.

At Organovo, people would ask us, “If you can grow human products, can you build animal products?” It wasn’t the right fit, since the technology we were developing was very specialized to high-fidelity human organs, and the focus of the company was medical. But … Next Page »

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One response to “Modern Meadow Grazes on $10M to Grow Leather Without Cows”

  1. Sunitha Perk says:

    I don’t understand why they’ve got the water amount so low. It’s closer to 200-250 gallons of water for 1/4 lbs of meat. It was gross just to write that. Imagine that cow is sentient like a human is. Good for them if they have an alternative but the truth is we can create all necessary products for living via plants and the earths minerals. But again best of luck to them saving the animals and environment.