An interview with Orbillion Bio: Bringing clean meat to the modern consumer

Orbillion Bio is on a mission to bring healthy, sustainable and flavorful meats with a complete farm-to-table story to the modern consumer. The innovative startup is looking to develop premium cell-based meat products from heritage cell lines that are directly sourced from farmers, all to accelerate the broad availability of nutritious cultivated meat products. The companies first offering? Premium meats from Wagyu, bison, and sheep that are low-fat, low-cholesterol and high-protein. We had the pleasure of speaking to the startup’s CEO and co-founder Patricia Bubner ahead of their involvement in Future Food-Tech New York where they will be delving into how their brand can help strengthen a post-Covid food system.

  1. What was the motivation behind launching Orbillion Bio?

Personally, I was always passionate about food and science: already as a teenager, I wanted to study chemistry to build nutritious food from scratch. Fast forward to today: I am doing exactly what I envisioned, just in a slightly different way. My co-founders and I share this deep passion of science and food. The three of us have worked together previously, and as many others we were fascinated by the possibility to grow meat without the animal and use technology to alleviate some of the most important and urgent issues in the modern world: how to feed an increasing number of people without exhausting the limited resources of our planet. We also saw the need for rapid development of the technology in this nascent field, and with our combined experience from biopharma, process engineering and synthetic biology we knew we had the right toolset to tackle the many roadblocks on the path to commercialization of cultivated meat. I’m an engineer and expert on lab automation, high throughput screening and the interface of biology and data science and machine learning. At Orbillion Bio, our goal is to drive the rapid commercialization of cultivated meat using our next level biotech platform.

Moreover, while we are driven by deep concerns around sustainability and providing nutritious food to the people on this planet, we also bring a level-headed approach to this field. We see farmers as the backbone of the foodsystem and the stewards of soil health and biodiversity. We want to leverage their knowledge. We know that it takes butchers, chefs and other experts on meat to develop outstanding products, and that’s why we partner with the best to bring premium meat products to the market. I grew up mucking stables and being around livestock, and have a deep appreciation for the cultural aspect of farming and food. I am also a big fan of decentralized food systems. My postdoc at UC Berkeley has brought me in touch with the locavore movement, the school of thought of Alice Waters and her brainchild, the Edible Schoolyard, Mark Bittman’s writings and the Berkeley Food Institute. I am truly passionate about changing the food system and decentralizing meat production, and providing nutritious food to the people. I worked very closely with farmers in The Millet Project (see Civil Eats article here) that I co-founded, and I am bringing this sentiment with me to Orbillion Bio.

  1. Nowadays, there are many players in the cell-based market… what makes Orbillion Bio different?

On the contrary, I don’t think there are enough companies in this space to serve the 1 trillion $ global meat market! There is space for many more, and we need more capital influx from both VC and government sources. With a young space like cultivated meat, many things are yet to be developed and standardized. I am sure we will see a lot of interesting and new solutions being put out by different groups in the field – from academia and industry alike – that will disrupt the industry.

Our differentiation is first, the founders’ strong and synergistic technical background that allows us to implement best practices from biopharma and biotechnology industries. The founding team has deep technical expertise but at the same time also experience in business development and entrepreneurship. Combined, we have over 30 years of experience in the chemical engineering, biotech and biopharma industries! Second, our commitment to Food with a Story and closing the gap between farmers and cultivated meat – we are actively thinking about how we can involve farmers and ranchers in the future of food and are grateful for our collaborators. And third – we have the experience in how to bring up a process from R&D to scale – and how to make a product that is safe and of highest quality.

Regarding the first point made – one needs to recognize that cultivated meat is still a very young field. Standards, procedures and safety standards simply do not exist. This is in stark contrast to a highly developed and regulated industry such as biopharma, for example. In the cultivated meat industry, optimized and scalable cell lines with reproducible performance do not currently exist. Often, it takes a long time to make small iterative improvements on cell lines of different species, and media, because of the lack of data and tools. Our high throughput platform provides the data necessary to rapidly optimize both cell lines and media.

With our proprietary platform technology, use 99.99% less volume than other companies, and can thus optimize hundreds of conditions at the same time. By using synthetic biology, lab automation and machine learning, we can rapidly test and optimize 1000s of strain variants in parallel on our platform, thus dramatically accelerating the path to production ready cell lines. Using our platform technology, we will be able to rapidly iterate on several cultivated meat products in the future. Finally, our tight collaborations with farmers and pledge to replicate biodiversity in cultured meats give us access to the best starting material.

  1. When and how are you planning to be in the market? Where is your funding coming from to do so?

We have planned our roadmap to be at pilot scale in 2023. Our current funding is coming from our PreSeed funding (VCs, Angels) and Accelerator programs (Brinc, Big Idea Ventures).

  1. How do you think the cell-based meat market will influence the traditional meat industry in the next five to ten years?

Currently, I see a lot of resistance and fear by traditional meat. Orbillion Bio aims to build a bridge because there are many synergies that can be leveraged. Any reduction in the consumption of slaughtered meat is beneficial, so hybrid products that replace traditional meat at a certain percentage, or even entirely, will be the start. Especially in the next 10 years, cultivated meat will be an “and” solution together with traditional meat; it can alleviate supply chain issues that have been laid bare in the current pandemic. Traditional meat just can’t satisfy the market, especially not in the face of increasing demand. I think if we join forces, we can build an amazing range of products and a new appreciation for meat by the consumer. And, don’t forget – there absolutely are actors in the traditional meat space that welcome cultured meat. I expect the numbers to increase, and these people to become more vocal about the benefits and opportunities of cultivated meat. As soon as people realize just how much money they can make with this it will change. And just imagine if farmers would breed their livestock for properties that are beneficial for cultured meat – how would cattle, chickens, pigs look like if we wouldn’t breed them for rapid muscle growth, weight gain and other characteristics?

  1. What challenges do you and other startups in clean meat face when trying to bring cell-based meat to the mass market? How are you planning to overcome these challenges?

There are certainly several challenges in cultivated meat – concerning economics, biology, engineering and regulation. We are grateful to some of the first companies in the space for tackling the regulatory challenges ahead of us and clearing the way for other companies. There is still a long way to go. At Orbillion Bio we plan on working closely with the regulatory agencies. Product safety and providing the data necessary is key for a successful regulatory approval.

Our High Throughput platform provides robust data for regulatory approval filings. Also, we start our process with selecting high quality animals and breeds and collect comprehensive information at the time of collection. Regarding scale up challenges – these are engineering challenges that we are confident to be able to overcome with our team of dedicated and experienced experts. And economics will remain to be seen – the current price of traditional meat is artificially low due to the many subsidies that are involved in traditional meat production. Holding cultivated meat to that artificial low price is kind of unfair. Premium cultivated meat products may be able to challenge the price parity issue, and that’s our first focus: Food with a story – premium meat products that connect the consumer to the animal the cells were sourced from and the farmer who bred the animal – with the difference that that animal did not have to die for the consumer to enjoy its meat. And on the biology side of things, standardization is key, and providing reproducible cell lines and protocols that are traceable and safe.

  1. What positive impact does Orbillion offer to consumers regarding health & environmental sustainability?

As a scientist, I think that the health impact is something that is difficult to frame – there is just a lack of dependable and reproducible studies on the health effects of meat consumption in general, and there are, of course, no studies at all on cultivated meat. We will bring a product on the market that will be, first of all, safe for consumption. Second, it will be very similar to traditional meat. We have the opportunity to improve the nutritional profile of cultivated meat, something that is impossible to do with traditional meat. So yes, lower cholesterol, higher unsaturated fatty acids, higher protein content, or even, as recently shown, production of certain vitamins is possible. Whether this is what the consumer wants, or not will remain to be seen. With regards to environmental sustainability, the fact that we can convert feedstock much more efficiently in cell culture than livestock can is well known. Water and land use reductions of over 90% are projected in the most prominent studies. A lot of this will only truly be shown in a process at scale, which has not been done yet. We all eagerly wait to see these data once we get there! Are we convinced that cultivated meat will in fact be more environmentally sustainable? Absolutely. There is no question that the current livestock production is not endlessly scalable and puts strain on our planetary resources and our climate.

  1. When do you think we can expect full commercialisation of cell-based meat?

I think the commercialization is knocking on the door already. We see several companies coming up with creative products and distribution ideas. Scale is still a bit of a problem, but I expect increasing launches in the next 2-3 years, and we will see a wider range of products on the market in 5-10 years if regulatory approves. Once one country approves cultivated meat for consumption, the pressure is clearly on for other countries. Just imagine how a land- and water-independent meat production could upend current global dependencies of countries from each other. This will be a major opportunity for countries to gain independence from established supply chains and it will have a massive global impact when it happens.

Want to hear more from Orbillion Bio and other foodtech leaders? Then join our CEO Jose Luis Cabanero at Future Foodtech New York (now virtually!!) on December 2-3 as food investors, executives, startups and entrepreneurs discuss how to build resilience through technology and partnership. Register here!

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