Mark Post, Mosa Meat. ©Marcel van Hoorn.

In front of the entrance to Mosa Meat at a business park in the Dutch city of Maastricht, employees are enjoying their lunch together, most of whom are young academics with a master’s degree or PhD. There are 65 people on staff, and the other 35 positions are in development, purchasing and HR. “It’s like a real company,” jokes Chief Scientific Officer Post, who founded Mosa Meat in 2015 with food technologist Peter Verstrate. On December 5, 2013, they presented the first hamburger made from cultured meat in London: a snack worth €250,000.

International

Aside from being a large organization, Mosa Meat has also international, with 23 nationalities represented at the company. “We have no trouble finding people. Someone from Madrid doesn’t care if you’re based in Maastricht, Eindhoven or Amsterdam. Maastricht is convenient for me because I like to cycle to work, and don’t want to move. Even though it all started here at the university and at Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus, the proximity of the institution becomes less important as the company grows and develops its own capacity to research certain things. We now have our own laboratory, for example. This company could exist anywhere, but we would like to keep it here at Brightlands.”

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To make the world of the future a bit more beautiful, cleaner and better, BRIGHT PEOPLE are indispensable. In this series we interview each month a leading light of the Brightlands Campuses. These born innovators talk about their mission and how they want to achieve it. Today the second episode featuring Mosa Meat.

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    You might think that the urgency to produce cultured meat would be even higher now that the European Commission has launched the Green Deal. “This is a global problem, not just a European one,” Post points out. “In the future, people won’t just be consuming meat in Europe, but also in India and China. I have felt this urgency since 2008, a lot longer than Frans Timmermans has. Politics tends to lag very far behind what has long been known in the scientific community.”

    Sergey Brin

    In September, it became clear that actor Leonardo di Caprio had also signed on as an investor. Post made a huge splash when he managed to bring Google founder Sergey Brin in as an investor during breakfast at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Maastricht. Mosa Meat is currently the company at Brightlands which has secured the most money: €75 million.

    Public investments always lag behind where ‘radical’ ideas like this are concerned because people are afraid to take a risk,”

    Mark Post

    Most of the investors joining in are private parties, of which there are around 25 total. Post believes that it helps that there is social value at stake. “Public investments always lag behind where ‘radical’ ideas like this are concerned because people are afraid to take a risk.” The sums that these smaller parties are investing will still amount to at least €500,000. Mark Post isn’t counting on receiving many more investments from the public sector; for the most art, he’s hoping that governments will invest in public awareness of CO2 emissions and the ways to reduce them.

    Good alternative

    When it comes to public support, he says he can’t complain. It goes without saying that Mosa Meat conducts research on these aspects. “I think that people all over the world understand that we have a problem. We can either help destroy the planet by continuing to eat meat or we can look for an alternative so that we don’t all have to become vegetarians. Around half of the people think cultured meat is a good idea and this percentage is rising. Which is encouraging.”

    Also a professor of vascular physiology, Mark Post says that he is a man on a mission. And this mission is to reduce the environmental impact of livestock farming worldwide. He says he’s not coming up against too much resistance either. “There are, of course, always meat producers, farmers and people in the industry who are inseparable from their burgers, but on the other hand, there are also meat producers who are investing in our idea.”

    Approval

    And now moving on to their current activities – how are they faring these days? Post: “We are now producing a few kilos a month, primarily so we can submit an application for approval to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) within the next six months. They need around a year and a half to complete this process.” Once the cultured meat has been established as a safe and wholesome food, production can really begin. It will take at least two years before Mosa Meat is available in restaurants, after which it will be sold in supermarkets, or you could even grow it yourself at home. Post: “We expect to eventually be able to offer it at the same price as regular meat, but it’s hard to say exactly when that will be. It won’t be anytime soon at any rate.”

    Reduce costs

    The question is: can’t it be done any faster? “We can exert some influence over this, but it’s still tricky. The technology we use originated in the medical world, and all of the ingredients are super expensive. In spite of this, the ingredients actually include things like sugar. The sugar you use at home is not as expensive as the sugar you find in the pharmaceutical industry. This means that we also have to deviate from traditional paths. We’re working with livestock feed companies now, for example. They also make sugar but feed that to pigs. We are looking into sourcing ingredients from this channel and testing it to see if our cells like it. I’m describing it in simple terms, but there is plenty to gain there. Just to give you another example, we use a protein called FGF. Until recently, this protein cost €1,000,000 per gram. Fortunately, we only use miniscule amounts of it, but still … That same protein or a comparable protein such as insulin currently can be made for €100 a gram, which is a far cry from one million. You could even make it yourself for €5 per gram if you wanted to. In other words, this industry in particular needs to change. We have to study all these factors, which is why there are a hundred of us working here.”

    Okay, so you have the investors, the ingredients can be procured less expensively, Europe needs more time; are there any other obstacles? “The biggest obstacle is scaling up the cell culture, from small quantities to large tanks. People tend to think about it in very simplistic terms; can’t you just make it bigger? Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. It takes a lot of research. We’re working with 40-liter tanks now, and will eventually scale up to 10,000-liter tanks. We did start with a 100-milliliter tank, by the way.”

    Silicon Valley

    Mosa Meat is viewed worldwide as being a frontrunner in cultured meat. Israel, the US and Singapore are also hard at work on the development of cultured meat. “I don’t think we will remain the biggest in quantitative terms,” says Post. “And this isn’t a must for us; the industry is huge, after all. I would be so thrilled if a factory could be built here that could provide employment for a few thousand people or even tens of thousands.”

    You’re not worried that the competition will beat you to the punch? “Obviously I don’t want to be overtaken in any sense of the word. I like to win; it’s in my nature. But we have to be realistic; we’re not the only ones doing this. Funding is three times easier to come by in Silicon Valley than it is here. One thing that does work in our favor is that we started sooner and are smarter.”

    Also interesting: Cultured fish from a bioreactor

    A powerful team

    Born and raised in Amsterdam, Post got his medical degree from Utrecht University in 1982 and a doctorate in pulmonary pharmacology. He went to Boston via the Interuniversity Cardiology Institute of the Netherlands where he was hired as an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. He moved his lab to New Hampshire before returning to the Netherlands in 2002, specifically to Maastricht University and the Eindhoven University of Technology. Once back in the Netherlands, he joined a program to produce cultured meat and, as professor of angiogenesis in tissue engineering, expanded these efforts further together with Peter Verstrate, with whom he founded Mosa Meat.

    Coaching

    There will come a time when he will have to let go of the reins; is he already thinking about this? “To me, it’s very normal to hire people who are better than you are. That’s what you’re supposed to do, in any case. It might sound very logical but many people struggle with this, and want to stay in control. This doesn’t apply to me. We have around seven senior scientists here, each and every one of whom is better at what they do than I am. As they should be. They can easily do this by working together. I’m officially supposed to retire in three years; nobody believes I really will, but that’s okay. I could also have a heart attack tomorrow. This is why I have to coach people to take over my role. I honestly don’t believe this company will just fold when I leave.”

    This company, and this is part of its strength, was founded as a means to an end and not as an end in and of itself,”

    Mark Post

    T-Bone Steak

    Post sees a bright future for Mosa Meat. “My background is as a scientist, so I rarely, if ever, know anything for sure. But no, I don’t see this going wrong anymore. I didn’t just wake up one day and think: I’m going to be an entrepreneur now. This company, and this is part of its strength, was founded as a means to an end and not as an end in and of itself. I realized very early on that if I want to make hamburgers, I can’t do it at the university. When we made the first hamburger in 2013, my employees, who are all scientists, said ‘this was fun but we’re never going to do this again.’ That’s when you realize that the university isn’t the right environment for that and it was clear that it had to become a company.”

    For the time being, Mosa Meat is focusing on hamburgers, but this is definitely not going to remain its sole focus however. “I do have ideas about other products, such as producing a T-bone steak or a rib-eye, but we’re concentrating on burgers for now. I think a hamburger’s already a major achievement. There’s a company that wants to make a piece of meat right away. This seems really brave to me. The reason we didn’t do this is that it’s incredibly complex, even though it is doable. You do run the risk of waiting too long to launch something like this on the market.”

    Read more about Brightlands

    Qorium

    As if Post wasn’t busy enough between running Mosa Meat and his work at the university, this year, he also founded another Brightlands company: Qorium. The subsidy is already in the bag and he’s started recruiting staff. Laughing, he says, “I work on Mosa Meat five days a week and Qorium on the other two. It actually revolves around a similar idea and technology, but we’re going to make leather. This is a very ‘dirty’ industry, and one you need cows for, including all the consequences that brings with it. We’re starting out with seven people, but I expect that it will be as big as Mosa Meat three years from now. There are far fewer organizations doing this; Mosa Meat has seventy competitors all over the world, Qorium only has three. It’s also a spin-off from the university and a Brightlands company. We’ll see what happens when it gets big.”

    Collaboration

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