Busting the infrastructure barrier! As I’ve written before, alternative protein infrastructure, not technology, is now the biggest barrier to the adoption of alternative proteins and other next generation food products. This article by John Cumbers illustrates one way in which this can be overcome.
To paraphrase the article there’s 3 stages to getting a biomanufacturing product to market at scale.
1 – Select and develop the right product for the technology.
2 – Validate that the process can scale.
3 – Build your commercial scale facility.
Obviously stage 1 is where VC funding of startups comes into play. They can also assist in stage 2, but at stage 3, as the article says, “most investors start getting pretty antsy.” Reducing the costs and elapsed time of stages 1 and 2 obviously helps reduce the development cycle time but still leaves the massive elephant in the room, stage 3. That’s because the big bucks are of course in building the facility. You’re looking at hundreds of millions of dollars, in fact pharma companies can spend up to USD2 billion on their facilities! The whole process from stage 1-3 can take 8 – 10 years, it takes some 2 years just to build the facility.
One company addressing the issue is Synonym. As their LinkedIn profile says they’re addressing stage 3 by “developing, financing and building commercial-scale biomanufacturing facilities.”
“We can’t use venture capital money to build biomanufacturing capacity. We need infrastructure investors… and they don’t want to invest in a single asset. We need to create an asset class.” says Synonym co-founder Joshua Lachter in the article.
If this asset class can be brought to reality then big pharma companies like Merck and Samsung, and big food companies like Nestle and Unilever may enter the market, driving massive, rapid growth and providing alternative protein infrastructure.
If we’re to create a sustainable food system we’re going to need to utilise biomanufacturing processes to replace chemical synthesis. But unfortunately, as the headline says, “There Is No Problem Biology Can’t Solve…Except For Economics”