Business Journey: Dr Martina Miotto of CellulaREvolution
Producing meat in a lab until recently was prohibitively expensive and time-consuming, but an innovative new clean meat technology could revolutionise the way we eat meat and provide an ethical alternative to a purely plant-based diet. Dr Martina Miotto Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of CellulaREvolution tells us about her journey creating a spin-out business from her PhD research.
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
CellulaREvolution is an innovative Newcastle University spin-out, focusing on novel cell culture technologies for cell therapy and the production of cultured meat.
Cultured meat is grown in a lab and developed using cell-based technology, rather than animals. It removes animal exploitation from the meat production process and reduces the environmental impact of CO2 emissions.
Our pioneering approach involves creating a continuous cell production system, based on synthetic peptide coatings and novel bioreactor technology that facilitates the production of cultured cells at greater scale and for a lower cost.
What did you do before you started this business?
I grew up in north-eastern Italy. My mum is a clinician working for emergency services, so from a young age I was always surrounded by science and medical books.
For as long as I can remember, I have always had a passion for STEM. Biology, maths and physics were my favourite subjects at school, where I had some great teachers and mentors who helped guide me through my early academic career. Thanks to them, I ended up attending the University of Ferrara where I studied biotechnology.
After completing my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of Ferrara, I moved to Newcastle University to complete my PhD, where I graduated in 2018. My supervisor was Professor Che Connon who would eventually become my future business partner.
What inspired you to start up?
As my PhD supervisor, Che supported and encouraged me to pursue my research ideas' commercial potential. Che was already a serial entrepreneur at that point, having founded two other successful spin-out businesses, Atelerix in 2017 and 3D BioTissues in 2019.
My PhD focused on tissue engineering and its real-world application, so in many ways looking at commercialisation opportunities from this research was a natural extension of my existing work. Che’s offer to help turn our research into a spin-out business was too good to refuse.
In 2019 Che, Leo Groenewegen and I co-founded CellulaREvolution where I now work alongside them as Chief Scientific Officer. It was an extension of my PhD research on the real-world application of tissue engineering.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
We benefited from Northern Accelerator's Executives into Business programme, which provided us with our CEO, Leo Groenewegen. Leo has helped us run the business from the early stages, providing us with fantastic guidance and counsel.
Leo has been a great addition to the team with extensive experience in biotech and pharmaceuticals; he has been instrumental in establishing CellulaREvolution as a successful spin-out business.
How did you access any finance you needed?
CellulaREvolution has received fantastic support from Northern Accelerator and Innovate UK. It helped steer our prospective spin-out through the early commercialisation process and was vital in helping us get things off the ground.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
I was lucky enough to win several awards in recognition of my achievements, such as Newcastle University’s Enterprise Scholarship and a prestigious Enterprise Fellowship from the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
One of our work's key innovations is enabling the cell production process to move away from the traditional batch method to a production system, where cells are harvested continuously.
We developed two technologies: A synthetic peptide coating that eliminates the need for animal-derived serum or additives and a bioreactor technology that facilitates the move from batch to continuous production.
The synthetic peptide coating increases cell proliferation and removes serum, a controversial and unstable bovine product, from cultured meat production. This reduces cost, increases the stability and predictability of the process, and allows the production of a truly ‘clean’ product.
Our bioreactor technology decouples cell production from the surface area available by releasing cells for harvest continuously. This allows for single-cell in-line quality control and the implementation of automation.
By moving to continuous cell production, the area required to grow cells can be drastically reduced, versus traditional production processes. This thereby removes one of the most significant limitations to scale-up, increasing yield and lowering production costs.
The change allows cultured meat companies to make a product at scale without exploiting animals, increasing their yield, and lowering their production costs. Cultured meat is a potentially high-growth market and can provide a more ethical, environmentally friendly alternative to traditional meat production.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
There are an increasing number of trailblazing academics turned businesswomen in the health and life science sector and I’m proud to be one of them. In just a year after completing my PhD, I became Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of CellulaREvolution. Its something I’ve found very rewarding and have never looked back since making the decision to start my own company with the help of Northern Accelerator.
Where do you see your business in five years’ time?
CellulaREvolution has expanded quickly since 2019, from its three initial co-founders to a seven-strong team, including a research and development department. We are also in the process of moving from their current location in the Centre for Life, to new offices in Newcastle’s Biosphere where they will set up lab facilities.
The clean meat industry is a high-growth market with exciting prospects. It will help to provide a more ethical and environmentally friendly alternative to meat production.
With our technology, we may be seeing clean meat featured on restaurant menus, alongside vegetarian and vegan options in the foreseeable future.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
I have always had a good experience as a woman working in health and life sciences and have never found it a problem. In recent years, I have noticed an increase in female participation, so the gender balance in the sector is starting to improve, which is great to see.
The Royal Society in Edinburgh is also looking at strategies to increase the number of female applicants and funding awards, which is testament to the female trailblazers starting to make a place for themselves in the industry. So, if you are a female academic with a great idea, do not be afraid to pursue commercialisation opportunities.