WhatisCultivatedMeat.com is peer-reviewed by a team of academic and industry experts who serve as technical advisors for the website's content. Petra Hanga, Phd, is the Co-Founder and CSO of Quest Meat Ltd. and a lecturer of Biochemical Engineering at University College London. Here Dr.Hanga discusses her journey into cultivated meat and some of the challenges and milestones along the way.
What drew you to cultivated meat?
I was first introduced to the concept of cultivated meat by a good friend of mine that ended up leading the Bioprocessing Team at Mosa Meat. The more I read about cultivated meat, the more excited and sadder I become at the same time. Excited because it addresses so many of the current detrimental effects of animal agriculture; and sad because some of the agricultural practices are simply horrific. To me personally, the advantage that weighs the most is that cultivated meat bypasses the need to raise and slaughter animals. In my quest to learn more about cultivated meat, I was fascinated to find out that visionaries like Winston Churchill recognized that surely there must be better ways for us to still have nutritious cuts of meat without having to grow and slaughter animals.
How did Quest Meat, Ltd. come about?
After receiving funding from The Good Food Institute and starting my research in the cultivated meat space that resulted in several publications, I started getting a lot of opportunities. One of these opportunities was to team up with Prof Ivan Wall with whom I was working already at the time and other co-founders with financial and business experience to start Quest Meat Ltd. Myself and Ivan come from a scientific background and bring in our expertise in cell manufacturing and bioprocessing, while the other co-founders were well established executives such as CEO and CSO in a Regenerative Medicine company and thus had significant experience in running and growing a business.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have experienced in founding and growing a cultivated meat startup?
Founding Quest Meat was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. It was exciting because it was something completely new that has allowed me to do research on a subject that I am highly passionate about. Quest Meat gave me a mission and that was to make meat without the need to slaughter animals. Starting Quest Meat and getting it operational required a lot of work in the background and it has been a learning experience from the start. Growing a business is no small job. It is exciting, but also difficult, and it comes with a lot of responsibility once you make the first hire. I would say the biggest challenge we’ve faced so far has been investment in the UK due to the political instability and the Covid pandemic.
What are some of Quest Meat’s significant milestones and achievements?
One achievement that I really want to mention as I am very proud of our team at Quest Meat is that we have participated in the BSGN (Business in Space Growth Network) Industry Accelerator AgriFood call, and our proposed project has been competitively selected from a high number of applications. We have progressed to the last stage of the competition that ended with a pitch in front of potential investors. We are now waiting for the final decision. If the project is awarded, Quest Meat will study cultivated meat-relevant stem cells in Space and collaborate on Earth with University of Glasgow to collect in-depth data that will inform the formulation of our products.
What challenges do you see for Quest Meat or the industry?
I think the current challenges are different and depend on the stage that the companies are at. For example, the biggest challenge now for newer cultivated meat start-ups is securing investment. Given the world events that have led to instability of the markets, investment has been more difficult to secure. For later stage cultivated meat companies, the challenges are to produce at scale cost-effectively, while achieving the right texture and palatability of their cultivated meat products.
What are some of the most interesting projects you have been involved with?
I think the project that really excites me as I absolutely love a good challenge and that I would love to have the opportunity to work on (fingers crossed we receive the investment) is the Space project through the BSGN call. Carrying out science in Space is mind-blowingly and is definitely something that I would really enjoy working on.
What current projects are you working on at University College London?
One project that we are currently working on at UCL is looking at developing a scalable bioprocess for production of cultivated meat by using cell encapsulation in food-grade hydrogels. Cell encapsulation in hydrogels is a technique commonly used in Regenerative Medicine to produce high density cultures for cells such as liver or islet pancreatic cells. The hypothesis in our project is that by encapsulating cells in food grade hydrogels and putting them in stirred tank bioreactors, two positive effects will be achieved: 1) high cell densities; 2) increased differentiation (both adipogenic and myogenic). We are very excited about this work and we are hoping to get our first publication out by the end of this year.
What do you see in the near future for cultivated meat?
Thinking of the latest milestone for this industry, I am hopeful that the first cultivated meat products will become available to consumers in Europe in the next 2 years if not earlier. US will most likely be sooner.
What advice would you give to college and high school students interested in working in this industry?
My advice would be to find themselves a mentor and to reach out to people in this area and have conversations. If an opportunity for an internship arises, take it as getting experience early on will help in the long term.
- Petra Hanga, PhD
Co-Founder & CSO, Quest Meat Ltd.
Lecturer, Biochemical Engineering, University College London
See Dr. Hanga's bio, webinar, and publications here.