[BLT Insight]Cultured meat technology in Korea

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The cultured meat market is experiencing growth each year, driven by various factors. Starting with the development of hamburger patties by the Dutch company Mosa Meat in 2013, cultured meats from pork, chicken, fish, and even lamb are being developed. Consequently, the cultured meat market is expected to witness tremendous growth in the future. According to global consulting firm AT Kearney, it is projected to reach $450 billion, occupying 35% of the total meat market by 2040. As evidence of this forecast, while it cost $330,000 to produce a single hamburger in 2013, recent advancements have brought the cost of beef close to $2 per 100g, ensuring economic viability. Price trends are expected to further decrease, ultimately eroding the traditional meat market.


[Image] The outlook for the cultured meat market (marketsandmarkets)


The most promising technologies in cultured meat development are cell-culture media without fetal bovine serum (FBS) and stem-cell-based marbling (fat cell formation) technologies. In terms of cell culture media, traditional methods use FBS for cultivation, which relies on the dairy industry and poses economic and ethical challenges due to its high cost (1 liter costs $1.5 million) and ethical concerns. Therefore, recent efforts have been focused on developing cell-culture media without FBS. Additionally, the stem-cell-based marbling formation technology aims to culture stem cells into fat cells. However, the unpredictability of stem cell growth poses implementation challenges. Recently, companies have been developing alternative methods, such as injecting fat instead of culturing fat cells.


Cultured seafood startup Cellqua Inc. (CEO Lee Sang-yoon, Lee Sang-yeop) has been selected for the TIPS program (worth 700 million won). Cellqua aims to develop and mass-produce cultured seafood based on cell culture technology and is receiving support from TIPS for commercialization. Currently, Cellqua is testing prototype cell culture kits standardized for seafood cell culture processes in universities and research institutions. In the future, Cellqua is expected to enter the cultured seafood market.


[Image] Cellqua's cell culture kit and prototype seafood


Domestic cultured meat companies are also actively developing technologies. Cellmeat Inc. (CEO Park Gil-jun) has independently developed cell-culture media without fetal bovine serum. Using its developed serum-free culture medium, Cellmeat has successfully cultured Dokdo shrimp. In the future, Cellmeat plans to introduce high-value species such as king crabs, which are currently unable to be cultivated. In addition, they have developed a mass-production technology for cultured meat using hydrogel scaffolds with cellulose technology. Recognizing their technological capabilities, they successfully secured a Series A investment of 17.4 billion won in 2023. Based on this investment, Cellmeat is developing a Seoul center for mass production to increase daily production capacity from 5kg to 10kg and lower the price of cultured meat to below $20 per kg.


[Image] Cellmeat's areas of R&D and substitute seafood


Furthermore, domestic company Mycel Co., Ltd. (CEO Sa Sung-jin) is pioneering the alternative leather market using cultured meat. Mycel develops alternative leather and meat using mushrooms and fungal strains. Especially, they possess technology to stabilize the cultivation environment by injecting a mixture gas including oxygen into the cultivation vessel. Recognizing this technology, they successfully secured a Pre-A investment of 14.7 billion won in 2022. In the future, Mycel plans to produce up to 300 square meters of alternative leather per day and supply it to fashion brands. Additionally, domestic company Seaweed Co., Ltd. is actively developing technology. Seaweed Co., Ltd. possesses core technology for culturing meat based on poultry. They are developing technology to culture cells into tissue such as steak while innovatively lowering the unit cost through seaweed-based 3D cell culture scaffolds and serum-free media. Recognizing this technology, they have signed a business agreement with Singapore's pharmaceutical contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) Esco Aster to enter the global cultured meat market. Thus, domestic companies' development of cultured meat technology is active.

[Image] Mycel's cultured protein and alternative leather using it


The government plans to foster 30 giant newborn companies (unicorn companies) in food tech by 2027 and plans to establish a 100 billion won food tech-specific fund. Among them, support will be provided for technologies that combine food and technology, such as cultured meat and food printing. Considering Korea's low self-sufficiency ratio in agriculture and food, it is expected that such policy support will be more actively provided.


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