Since the Singapore Food Agency approved Eat Just’s “chicken bites” back in December 2020 there have been little other regulatory approvals for commercial sale. However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently taken a step towards allowing the sale of cultured meat, deeming a meat product from Upside Foods to be safe for human consumption. While also stating that it was engaging with multiple other firms to do the same, as they are ready to approve the sale of lab-grown meat. This could be paving the way for mass market adoption in the US, but before products hit the shelves, firms will have to also get the approval of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) as they have also asserted regulatory authority over cell-cultured meats.
On the other hand, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the body responsible for this in Europe is not ready to approve products for sale. It is understood that cultured meat producers are making attempts for approval, but this could still be some time off. For context, the safety review for EAT Just in Singapore took 2 years to complete.
Nevertheless, more regulatory approval is expected and there is a clear interest from EU and US bodies in stimulating activity in this space. EU programmes REACT-EU and Horizon 2020 are distributing grants to companies involved in this space. And the USDA has committed $10 million to Tuft University to establish the National Institute for Cellular Agriculture.
Ultimately, the industry still has hurdles to get over before widespread commercial adoption can take place.
With this progress expected to continue and these hurdles overcome, by 2040 cultured meat is expected to make up 35% of global meat consumption. With conventional meat making up 40% and vegan meat replacements making up the remaining 25%.
The inroads of market development are also expected to happen very quickly, with the European market expected to be worth $818 million by 2026. However, this is far behind China and North America, with $14.8 billion and $4.4billion in expected market size by 2026 respectively.
Geographically, the majority of investment is going to only a select few countries.
The US is claiming the biggest piece of pie, with over 60% of all investment into cultured meat going to the country. Large investment value is always expected when considering the US as it is the largest VC market in the world.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly Israel comes in at number 2 on the list. Israel’s VC sector is well known for being quite mature and there is an extraordinary ability of specialised companies in the country to attract investment.
The rest of the top five is rounded off by the Netherlands, Singapore, and the UK. The Netherlands is not a surprise on the list as they lay claim to being the birthplace of the first lab-grown hamburger, neither is Singapore a surprise given that they were first to approve cultured meat for commercial sale. Possibly the only questionable country on the list is the UK, but given the great scientific capabilities the UK possess through its academic institutions and research communities it’s place is probably warranted.
The top 10 companies filing European patents shows us that only 3/10 are European companies: HigherSteaks (UK), Mosa Meat (Netherlands) & Biotech Foods (Spain). The remaining companies are Asia or US based, with 2/10 comprising companies based in Israel. This means that most of the European patent applications centred on cultured meat are being filed for by non-European companies, putting them ahead of the curve in terms of protecting this new technology.
The inclusion and position of US, Israel, British, and Netherland based companies as top filers is unsurprising given their positions in the top 5 raised capital, suggesting that patent filings could prove useful in this industry for attracting investment or that a wise use of their investment could be in facilitating patent protection.
US and Asian companies are ahead of the curve and already seeking protection in Europe, potentially fencing off the foundational technology that will launch the world into this new method of meat production. HigherSteaks, Mosa Meat & BioTech Foods are the only European based companies, founded in the UK, Netherlands & Spain respectively.
The table above shows that the patents accurately reflect the unique nature of the industry with classifications being spread amongst biotechnology (C classes) and food (A classes). This mixed array of classifications highlights the desire and/or need for protection to be sought in both fields. Most of the assignees are represented in both types of classifications, indicating patents that reference both the means of making the product and the product themselves.
Aleph Farms is the top filer for European patents and is present in all top 10 CPC (Cooperative Patent Classifications) codes, showing a clear dominance in this space. The most popular classifications to be assigned to the patents are A23L13/00 (Meat Products), C12N5/0658 and C12N5/00 (both relating to undifferentiated animals cells), and although A12L13/00 has the most filings, C12N5/00 has the widest spread when considering the top filing companies.
Most of the top non-European companies are filing for European patents through the European Patent Office (EPO), which, if granted will granted them rights throughout all designated states, not just a specific territory (like a UK patent would). This is expected behaviour from non-European companies looking to enter Europe as it eases the administrative and cost burden for them. Because a European patent provides a ‘blanket’ protection it can prevent European companies from obtaining national patent protection. With this knowledge, could European companies be doing more to keep ahead of the game and not let themselves be fenced out of this technology?
HigherSteaks and Mosa Meat are the only companies that are filing GB patents.
Highersteaks is interesting, it occupies third place as most active filers, but the chart doesn’t indicate that many of these filings are in the top 10 CPCs. This is because HigherSteaks have made a number of UK filings within the last 18 months. When a company makes a UK filing, the UKIPO (United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office) posts a bulletin, effectively announcing that a company has filed for a patent. Now, the UK still abides by the 18-month publication delay for patent filings, so the information provided by the announcement is very minimal. We get the Title, Applicant, and relevant dates. No further information, and as such, no classifications. This explains their presence on the chart. HigherSteaks have received the second largest amount of capital investment of any company in the UK (6th in Europe). This is unsurprising given they have filed the most UK patents of any company in the cultured meat space.
Mosa Meats have received the largest amount of capital investment of any company in Europe. This could be considered foreseeable, given they have the most international patent portfolio of European companies in the cultured meat space and Mark Post, the creator of the first “cow-free” burger, is the CSO and co-founder.
Overall, patent filings are still comparatively low. This is to be expected given:
Time appears to be the most obvious solution to the current industry problems, as time goes on, the above issues will gradually become alleviated. However, the patent race is as time sensitive as ever, and the winners will be those who capitalise early on.
Though the industry is still coming to grips with patent protection, it is clear that patents will play an important role in further development, and whilst patents may not be necessary to receiving funding, they’ve certainly been a promising avenue for some of the companies discussed in this article.
In terms of investment, Europe is seeing only a fraction of what other leading regions are drawing in. There is however a similar trend among all regions that a select few companies are claiming the vast majority of investment. Nevertheless, even with the uptick in investment since the start of the decade, it is arguably falling considerably short when considering the lofty market expectations that will be taking fruition in the near future.
With the European market for cultured meat expected to be considerably smaller than other major regions it may somewhat explain the lacking domestic investment. But funding is still needed to overcome industry hurdles and face off fierce competition from international players. At the current rate, Europe will have to settle for dishing out seconds.
About Alec Griffiths | IP Manager
About Adam Simmonds | Research Associate