Big Idea Ventures has launched our very own podcast “The Big Idea Podcast: Food”. Each week Big Idea Ventures Founder Andrew D. Ive will speak with some of the most innovative minds in the food space and talk about the exciting projects they are a part of.
To listen to the episode click the links below!
Google Podcast: https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkLnBvZC5jby90aGUtYmlnLWlkZWEtcG9kY2FzdC1mb29k
To learn more about MOA Foodtech, check out the links below!
Bright Biotech: https://www.brightbiotech.co.uk/
Andrew D Ive 00:00
Welcome to the Big Idea podcast where we focus on food. Today we’re going to be talking to Muhammad from Bright Biotech. Bright Biotech are a company based in the United Kingdom, focused on some really interesting food based technologies that will help unlock the cell based meat industry. So let’s get into the conversation. Look forward to getting your feedback at the end. Thank you.
Andrew D Ive 00:40
Okay, welcome to the Big Idea podcast Mohammad where we’re focused on food. How’re you doing? What’s new?
Mohammad El Hajj 00:47
Hi, Andrew. I’m doing so well, a lot better than last week. I had to fight COVID for two weeks. But yeah, today I’m doing well and so very grateful that I’ve managed to not suffer a lot. I know that a lot of people have suffered from COVID.
Andrew D Ive 01:05
Well, I’m glad you’re feeling better. I was nervous when we said we were going to talk last week, and then you had to cancel at the last minute, but I’m glad you’re feeling able to have this conversation today. So let’s jump into it. Tell us what you guys do. Let’s start there.
Mohammad El Hajj 01:23
Great. So I’m the CEO of Bright Biotech, a company that is UK based. We registered the company at the end of 2019 just a few months before COVID started. Tthe company is based on research that has been ongoing for almost a decade and I was part of it. I came from Lebanon in 2011 to the UK and I joined the lab at the University of Manchester and the technology is all about exploring the plant as a vehicle to make recombinant proteins.
Mohammad El Hajj 01:56
Now, to me, that was very exciting. The first time I came across the plant system, as a vehicle to make proteins, was when I was an undergraduate in Lebanon and there they were talking about the more established systems that are used to make proteins for therapeutic uses and we just scratched the surface of the plant system. So I did my homework, and I did further research and I found that there’s potential to use this plant system in order to reduce the costs of making recombinant protein, whether it is for industrial uses or therapeutic use. That’s why I ended up here in the UK and in those 10 years, I’ve been trying to optimize the system, and to get it to a stage where we can commercialize it, and this is where we are right now.
Andrew D Ive 02:48
Did you take a breath there? Okay, there’s a lot to unpack there. So you talked about using plant systems as a vehicle or as a process for creating recombinant protein? Why don’t we unpack that for people who are sort of coming to this category or this space for the first time? When you talk about plant systems you are not talking about production plants, like factories, and related, are you you’re talking about regular green plants, stalks in the field type plants, right?
Mohammad El Hajj 03:27
Exactly. So we’re talking about real plants,and in our case, we’re using tobacco. I know like a lot of people, they run away when they hear the word tobacco because they associate it with bad habits but there’s an alternative use to tobacco, we can use it as a a cheap bioreactor to make proteins and in our case we’re genetically engineering those plants to make animal proteins, so they can be applied to a number of industries. So yeah, answering your question, it is the green plants that we are using.
Andrew D Ive 04:00
Okay, and you threw a few more terms in there and I want to make sure people are clear about what they are. So you’re using green plants, you’re taking proteins, you’re basically putting them inside of the plant, inside of the tobacco plant. As the tobacco plant grows it basically multiplies or makes the protein that you put inside the plant, duplicate. So let’s say for example, and I’ll be super simplistic about this, let’s say you put 10 protein cells inside of the plan,t as the plant doubles in size you expect those 10 protein cells to become 20 proteins so the cells double in size. Very simplistic but that’s the basic idea right? that as the plant grows in size the cells grow too?
Mohammad El Hajj 05:01
Yeah, so it’s slightly different. So basically what we put in is not the protein, we put in the code that encodes the protein. So we go, for example, in our case, we’re making now growth factors for the cultivated meat sector, we go to animals and we go through the sequence of those growth factors. We introduce them into the plants, into the genetic system of the plants and then we use the the system, the genetic system of the plants to amplify in order to make those proteins and then harvest them eventually. So yeah, so it’s more.
Andrew D Ive 05:41
So all of the scientists who are listening to me describe this simplistic view, were laughing their rear ends off, how I was describing it, but I’m sure you got some of it. That’s good. I always love getting on these calls, because I’m always the dumbest person in the room, which allows me to ask the stupid questions and that helps us to understand, I will continue to take that role of dumbest person in the room, I’m sure.
Mohammad El Hajj 06:14
But I realize there’s never a stupid question because in my case, I used to be afraid of asking questions and then I realized that asking question is the only way to learn. I used to, like, I don’t know if we’ll get time to talk more about myself but I always identify myself as an introvert and then I used to take note of everything I heard but I never asked the question in order to clarify. So I used to do the research myself and it used to take me so much time to find the answers. Then I realized in the process of building Bright Biotech, that the fastest way is to ask questions, even if you think it’s stupid, there’s no stupid question.
Andrew D Ive 06:51
Okay. Well, I guarantee to ask the stupid questions. How’s that? So Bright Biotech? Let’s, dig into it and I’ll continue to ask those silly questions. Tobacco? Is it because it’s a particularly fast growing plant? Is that why you chose that?
Mohammad El Hajj 07:12
So there are a number of reasons why I’ve chosen tobacco. So one of them is because tobacco is a very high biomass plant and our system is a leaf based expression system. So the more biomass you have, the more protein that you’re producing. So this is one of the reasons. Another reason is because tobacco is a non food crop and one of the reasons that slowed down the adoption of plant technologies, especially the competing ones, was the issue of using food crops or the contamination of the food chain, by the escape of the gene that you’re introducing into your plant genetic system.
Mohammad El Hajj 07:49
So using tobacco, a non food crop, eases the concerns about the contamination of food chains. So this is another reason. The third reason is tobacco produces a lot of seeds. So when we do the process of genetic engineering, and then we get our genetically engineered plants, this one plant gives us 10,000 seeds. So this relates to the scalability of the system. So it’s because of these three reasons that we’ve chosen tobacco, and the levels of expression that we’ve seen in tobacco compared to other systems or crops that we’ve explored, is a lot higher.
Mohammad El Hajj 08:22
So it’s a number of reasons that managers chose tobacco over others.
Andrew D Ive 08:25
Did you consider other crops?
Mohammad El Hajj 08:28
Yeah, well, part of my PhD was looking at lettuce, for example. So yeah, so we did consider other crops, but the yields that we’re getting from tobacco is a lot higher. So the system in tobacco is a lot more established than the other systems.
Andrew D Ive 08:44
What does that mean?
Mohammad El Hajj 08:46
So it’s been studied a number of times, we’re not the only people in the world that have explored chloroplasts because they are this is one thing that I didn’t mention. So within plant biotechnology, there are three systems. You can introduce the foreign gene, or this foreign sequence that is coming either from plants or coming from any other living organism, and add to the nuclear DNA of plants, or you can introduce it into the DNA of chloroplasts.
Mohammad El Hajj 09:14
Now, for the people that don’t know, chloroplasts are the organisms that are present within the plant cells and they’re famous for carrying out photosynthesis, which is the process of converting light energy into chemical energy. These organisms have their own DNA, and they have them in very high copy numbers. So we introduce these foreign genes into the DNA of the chloroplasts, and they got a very high copy number, allowing us to produce large amounts of the protein.
Mohammad El Hajj 09:44
So these are the different nuances and then you also have a third which is transient, where, every time you want to produce a protein, you introduce the fine gene through a bacteria that you introduce into your plants. Now in our case, we’re using chloroplasts so that gives us an advantage compared to the competing systems.
Andrew D Ive 10:07
Now, in terms of growing this tobacco in large numbers, do you anticipate ultimately having a field of your genetically modified tobacco plants as a way of creating the volume you’re looking for, or are these kept in an internal container growing systems, and you increase the volume through multiple internal, protected environments. I guess I’m wondering a little bit about the possibility, as you mentioned before, of cross contamination between your tobacco plants and other people’s crops, next door, or wherever it might be.
Mohammad El Hajj 10:54
This is definitely what we are hoping for, to be able to grow the plants in the fields. because everyone that talks about plant biotechnology, they say that this technology will achieve its potential when the plants are grown in the fields. But then, as you’ve mentioned, there’s a regulatory concern of the foreign gene escaping. And this is what puts us ahead of the competing plant technologies.
Mohammad El Hajj 11:16
Now the advantage of using chloroplasts is that the gene will be contained within the chloroplast and it will not be inherited through the pollen grains, as opposed to introducing the foreign gene into the nuclear DNA. So once it’s in the nuclear DNA, it goes into the pollen grains, and then it can spread through fields. In our case, the chloroplasts are maternally inherited, meaning that pollen grains will not carry the foreign gene and this will limit the spread.
Mohammad El Hajj 11:45
So we’ve got the potential to grow these plants in the fields, were ahead of the competition there, but there is not yet a regulatory framework that allows us to do that. So as a starting point, we are going to grow them in contained glass houses but then the next step is to grow them in the fields, because this eventually will allow us to further reduce the cost of making the protein.
Andrew D Ive 12:09
You said limit the chance of cross contamination is it limit or make it non existent?
Mohammad El Hajj 12:15
So yeah, so that’s the right word. So it’s non existent, because if it’s not present within the pollen grains, it would be very difficult for it to escape into the environment.
Andrew D Ive 12:25
Very difficult or impossible?
Mohammad El Hajj 12:30
There are certain stresses that allow the pollen grains to carry a little bit of the chloroplasts, but this is very rare. So that’s why I’m telling you up until this point, these need to be raised to the regulatory authorities to look into that but it’s very rare. But then if you look at the biology, there are certain stresses, for example, very, very low temperatures, where you end up with the pollen grain carrying the chloroplasts, but usually you grow your plants at the optimal temperature, so around 25 degrees Celsius. So at optimal temperatures, it’s not so there, you do not have carryovers of the chloroplasts into the pollen grains.
Andrew D Ive 13:16
So if you, for example, created a field, when you’re using your plants, is the intention to use the tobacco to extract the proteins from the plant, and then use the tobacco part of it for tobacco, and the protein part of it for protein, or has the process of creating those plants the way you want them to be made them mono functional, in other words, they are all about the proteins and they’re not about the tobacco whatsoever. It’s just a vehicle to do what you want to do.
Mohammad El Hajj 13:56
This is actually a very interesting question, because it’s one of the things that we’ve looked at. We’re just using the leaf material in order to extract the protein and then everything goes to waste but then if you look at the protein content of tobacco leaves, which are considered to be nutritious, they have besides the protein that you’re making they have endogenous proteins and they account for around 20 grams per kilogram of leaf material and then in the alternative protein industry, these can be used.
Andrew D Ive 14:26
Is this the Rubisco aspects?
Mohammad El Hajj 14:31
Rubisco is one of the proteins that are present. So you have a whole range of proteins that are producing within the plant cells and they account for around 20 grams per kilogram, and that’s quite a lot. So instead of wasting all of these 20 grams, we were thinking of looking at the side stream where we use this byproduct and also in the alternative protein industry.
Mohammad El Hajj 14:57
The thing is one of the things that we need to look at is the nicotine content, because one of the drawbacks of using a tobacco plant is that they’ve got nicotine content. Now in our case, we do have access to seeds that are low in alkaloid content, which is below the threshold but then with the advancements in technologies, you can always shut down the biosynthetic pathway, and then just make an alkaloid free tobacco plant, and this will be ideal. Then if that’s the case, you can use this waste material and use it in several industries. So it’s actually a very interesting thing that we thought of.
Andrew D Ive 15:38
I recommend you talk to the good leaf company, which is a company in cohort five our latest cohort, because those guys are literally focusing on extracting proteins and converting that protein into a flavorless fragrance free prep protein source using leafy greens. So they’re focused on the Rubisco side there, they’ve been using sweet potato and other plants as the kind of core ingredient but you know, if you guys are going to end up with bunches of tobacco side streams this is what they’ve been focused on, from a university perspective now for quite a few years as well. So maybe there’s a colab here.
Mohammad El Hajj 16:27
And that would be really interesting to speak to them. And it’s good that you’ve mentioned Rubisco. So Rubisco is the most abundant protein on Earth. So if you look at the protein fingerprint of the proteins present, and cells, you see like on a protein gel, a very thick bond, and then our system is capable of producing a foreign protein to comparable levels to the Rubisco. So this is how good our system is.
Andrew D Ive 16:53
So this company is based in Australia, so you have to figure out the time difference, but I’m sure we’ll introduce you and you can have some of those conversations. So now let’s get back to Bright Biotech. So we’ve kind of talked a little bit about the plants, I feel like we’ve got a grip on that. Now you’re using that plant to ultimately create a growth factor. For those that don’t know, take us through what that growth factor is typically used for and how you see it being used in the food industry.
Mohammad El Hajj 17:32
Great. So just like a background about growth factors. So these are naturally occurring proteins that are produced by cells, and then they promote a number of biological activities, including the multiplication of the cell, the growth of the cells, and then the differentiation into different cell types for talking about stem cells. So, these growth factors, they can be also used in a number of industries, including, as I said, beginning in regenerative medicine, so they have been used and tissue engineering and organ engineering.
Mohammad El Hajj 18:03
So they mediate or they drive the growth and the multiplication of cells. Now the cultivated meat industry is a derivative of the regenerative medicine. So you need to start off by a few cells, and then you need to amplify those seeds, you need to grow them and you need to allow their multiplication. So you need growth factors to be present in the culture media that they are grown in and this is what makes it very difficult to scale this industry, because growth factors are not readily available at this point, because they are difficult to make and they are quite expensive.
Mohammad El Hajj 18:41
So this is where we can come in, because we are putting our technology on the table, it’s technology that can produce them at large quantities, and also at a very low cost and a very scalable system. So we will be able to produce the amount of the growth factors that is required that will allow the industry to scale. So and growth factors, as I’ve mentioned, so they are components of the culture media when the cells are grown.
Andrew D Ive 19:08
So just just to do my video summary, again, the growth factor is used to make cells multiply, growth factors are being used in regenerative medicine but I’ll let you define regenerative medicine, I’m about to completely butcher that…. regenerative medicine and also in cultured meat. So as a way of making the cultured meat cells grow, typically that growth factor is difficult to acquire and is also very expensive, which is one of the key blockers or bottlenecks of scaling up the cultured meat industry. And you guys have, through your technology, created a far less expensive and potentially more ubiquitous source of growth factor unlocking cultured meat as an industry as a category.
Mohammad El Hajj 20:06
Exactly. So, yeah, everything you’ve said is spot on.
Andrew D Ive 20:11
Whoa, that’s perfect. So question as effective, less effective, more effective than traditional growth factors?
Mohammad El Hajj 20:23
Okay so let me highlight here that when we started exemplifying our technology with the growth factors. We started off by putting human growth factors into the plant system. So the growth factors that we have expressed are human growth factors, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot be used in the cultivated meat sector because you’re not taking anything from humans, you’re just taking the sequence, the most important thing in this industry, you want to have potent growth factors. So this is what’s important.
Mohammad El Hajj 20:55
The thing is, we’ve tested by activity of our growth factors, comparing it to commercially available growth factors, and it showed higher potency and this is very important, because when you have higher potency, it means that you don’t need as much growth factors in order to achieve the same yields whether if we’re talking about proliferation and the multiplication of the sense.
Mohammad El Hajj 21:16
So on, the way to move forward is to test the growth factor that we have on species specific set nines and then the next step for us is to expand our product portfolio to include species specific growth factors, and this is what we’re doing now. So in the past month, as part of the Big Idea Ventures accelerator program, we’ve been talking to a number of cell based meat industries and we’ve heard from them which growth factors they’re interested in, what cell lines they are working with, and based on that, we put together a list of all of the growth factors that we will start introducing into our plants, so we can have them available by the end of the year. So for them to start testing other cell lines.
Andrew D Ive 22:00
So again, I’ve got follow up questions. You talked about using human growth factors. Let’s say for example, you take a piece of beef, or some beef cells, and you grow those cells, once the cells have grown, the growth factor is no longer part of the beef. In other words, the beef that’s created or the the cells created won’t include any component of the human growth factor that’s used to multiply those cells or will it?
Mohammad El Hajj 22:40
It does depend on the growth factor that you are using? So there are certain growth factors that are uptaken by the cells and some that are not taken. So the right answer is that depends on the growth factors. So then they will be uptaken. So if we are starting off with the human growth factor, you might have traces within the plant cells and this is part of the regulation, regulatory framework that needs to be in place. So one of the questions that need to be answered by all of the people in the cultivated meat sector is what are the levers of the growth factors or the exogenous growth factors that have been uptaken by the cells?
Andrew D Ive 23:22
Because I’m not sure many people are going to want to eat beef that is, including human.
Mohammad El Hajj 23:29
Yeah. So that’s why in our case, we’re moving away. So basically, we have exemplified our system where the human growth factors, but then because initially, there was a pivoting of the business model and then just after we were introduced to the cultivated meat sector, we just shifted away from the human growth factors and now we’re going to be making species specific.
Andrew D Ive 23:54
Now, maybe we shouldn’t be squeamish about the fact that there’s human growth factor involved because to your point, it’s the sequence or the code. It’s not actually a human.
Mohammad El Hajj 24:10
it’s not a human because you can look at it as a synthetic sequence. For example, let’s assume we take a bovine, which is a beef growth factor, and then it has its limitation, whether it is in terms of stability, or in terms of activity. So you can always make tweaks to the sequence in order to enhance its activity and enhance its stability. So it’s a synthetic sequence and basically, in our case, the process of introducing and introducing it into the plant, we take the protein sequence, the protein is made up of building blocks, and these are amino acids and then in our case, we don’t change the sequence of the amino acids, but when it comes to the basis that encode the amino acids, we do changes in order to make it compatible with the plan system.
Mohammad El Hajj 25:02
So you can liken it to the human sequence, but then it’s a system. It’s a synthetic sequence that we’ve optimized in order to get higher levels. So think about it like evolution, sometimes you get mutations and then if it favors that mutation it remains. So in our case, yeah, we call it a human just because the sequence is a human, but it’s not actually human.
Andrew D Ive 25:29
The way I’m thinking about it isn’t as a mutation, because that’s one of those scary words that non scientists kind of probably freak out about. Me included. I think of it as a recipe book. So you’re using a recipe, you’re using a particular recipe, which is telling you the code, it’s a recipe, it’s a formula? It’s not actually the bits and pieces from the human.
Mohammad El Hajj 25:53
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. But I think people shouldn’t associate mutation always with a bad thing, sometimes to get favorable mutations, and allows us to survive.
Andrew D Ive 26:03
I’m just sort of thinking about the cultivated meat PR engine, which is getting the rest of the world behind the category as a feasible non scary thing, that you can feed your kids on a daily basis. And to do that, we need to be kind of cognizant of what sort of phraseology and so on will make alarm bells ring, even though they shouldn’t, even though they shouldn’t. So from a calculation perspective, have you sort of figured out, given that the cost of the traditional growth factor has been a key barrier, what’s your calculation of using your new approach? What’s that going to do in terms of reducing costs, how accessible now is ultivated meat given what you can achieve now?
Mohammad El Hajj 27:05
The cost that we have for the protein that we’ve made in our system, the retail price is 80 million US dollars for one gram of the protein. So it’s massive. Our manufacturing cost is 100,000. US dollars, so that’s a big difference. And then because we want it to be a win win situation for the company in order to keep innovating for the cultivated meat sector, and also a win situation for the cultivated meat sector to scale up, we’re thinking of sending those growth factors for 600,000. So we’re talking about 80 million US dollars, versus 600,000. US dollars.
Mohammad El Hajj 27:45
So in terms of the price of the cultivated meat, at this point, it stands around the kilogram of cultivated meats around 10,000 US dollars, because of the high cost of the growth factors in the growth media. Now introducing or replacing both factors with a flat base one, we’re hoping that we can reduce the cost from 10,000 all the way down to around 500, which is still very high but then there are a lot of variables that all need to be optimized in order to get to where we want to be. But this is just like a big step forward towards reducing the cost of cultivated meat and whether to allow it to reach cost parity with conventional means.
Andrew D Ive 28:33
So in terms of the product, you’re attempting to replace, are you attempting to replace FBS? Or are you are you attempting to replace an alternative to FBS that’s currently used in its place?
Mohammad El Hajj 28:46
So at the starting point, we’re just now replacing the growth factors in non animal medium. So non animal media is supposed to replace FPS and there are a lot of drawbacks of using FPS. So besides the unethical way of obtaining the FPS, there’s also variability from batch to batch. So the best way is to replace it with a non animal medium.
Mohammad El Hajj 29:14
The non animal medium will have to include certain components and then the growth factors are the major cost drivers in the marginal cost of this medium. They make up actually 95% So yeah, now we’re expanding our portfolio to include all of the growth factors that should be part of this media. And at one point yeah, when we can we can think of actually making the media itself.
Andrew D Ive 29:42
So when you talk about one kilo, did you say one kilogram?
Mohammad El Hajj 29:47
No. One gram of protein is 80 million US dollars. So this is based on the PSA
Andrew D Ive 29:55
0 million or 8,000,000
Mohammad El Hajj 29:58
Andrew D Ive 30:00
So what’s costing $8 million for a gram? What component are you talking about?
Mohammad El Hajj 30:07
So this is the TGF beta
Andrew D Ive 30:09
Mohammad El Hajj 30:10
The TGF beta. So it’s a transforming growth factor, Beta. This is a family of growth factors. There are TGF beta one, TGF beta two, TGF beta three, and also bone morphogenetic protein within the superfamily and they are quite difficult to make because all of the competing systems have been struggling with achieving high yield. And on top of the high yield, they also have a very complex biological structure, they have disulfide bonds within them.
Mohammad El Hajj 30:44
Then the process of making a function and protein is costly. So to keep it simple, so this is the thing that we’ve managed. Our plants are producing large amounts of these proteins and we’re talking about two grams per kilogram of leaf material. Then we need to convert this amount that we are generating within the leaves into active proteins. This is where we managed to significantly reduce the cost of manufacturing.
Andrew D Ive 31:14
So who currently manufactures the product that’s $80 million for the gram?
Mohammad El Hajj 31:20
Andrew D Ive 31:22
Mohammad El Hajj 31:23
Andrew D Ive 31:23
So does your product make their product obsolete?
Mohammad El Hajj 31:30
Yes. If you look at the market of growth factors that are usually sold in very, very small quantities, because even for the cultivated meat sector, most of the companies now are at pilot scale. So they’re only using microgram amounts of these proteins. You can go into the market see that the 10 microgram is sold between 200 pounds all the way up to 800 pounds, depending on the manufacturers and the quality of the protein that you’re producing.
Mohammad El Hajj 32:06
If you want to order larger quantities and milligram quantities, you need to ask for quotation because it’s not readily available. So this is the main problem that they’re producing very low yields, and then they’re not readily available. Now, according to the GFSI report, if you want to produce 20 tonnes of cultivated meat, you need to use around 41 grams of growth factors and it’s not easy to get those 41 grams.
Andrew D Ive 32:34
So for you to create 41 grams of growth factor would cost how much?
Mohammad El Hajj 32:41
So to make 41 grams, so it’s 100,000 times I’m very about the numbers 100,000 times 41. It’s very easy. It’s an easy calculation and just don’t say wrong number.
Andrew D Ive 32:58
Okay, okay. Don’t, don’t worry about it. But basically this is an unlock, certainly for cultivated meat and it’s potentially an unlock for Regenerative Medicine, right. This is the ingredient that is currently being used in both areas. If you guys can create it at significantly less it’s important. It’s an unlock.
Mohammad El Hajj 33:30
Yes. So I think this is what we’re offering. We want to produce these in large quantities, so we can unlock and then allow this industry to scale up.
Andrew D Ive 33:45
So sounds like there’s a regulatory component that you guys are going to need to go through. Obviously, there’s the scale up of production. What what what do you think are the the most challenging aspects of what you’ve got to accomplish in the next year or two?
Mohammad El Hajj 34:04
The first one is regulations. This applies to all of the manufacturers of growth factors to the cultivated meat sector. It’s not something that only Bright Biotech has to take care of. We need to answer the questions, whether it is okay to use growth factors from a genetically modified source. Now, for example, we’ve spoken with Food Enough in France and one of the things that we’ve discussed is having a consortium of different stakeholders in the cultivated meat sectors, that involves people producing the growth factors, people in manufacturing the cultivated meat and then answering the questions and an order to raise it to the commission so they can look at it.
Mohammad El Hajj 34:49
If it’s genetically modified or it’s a growth factor from a genetically modified source, and it is not considered another food so it might take a few years in order to get to this stage, but then someone needs to take the initiative. I know, for example, they already included in their team, a member who’s aware of the regulations and has been a regulatory advisor. So yeah, so it’s these people that will allow us to clear the usage of growth factors from a GM GM source and the cultivated meat sector.
Mohammad El Hajj 35:29
In terms of regulation, when it comes to using the growth factors, another thing so in terms of plants, for example, in our case, since we are based in the UK, we’re using tobacco plants and then we’re also using a chloroplast system, our work is considered containment level one. It is the lowest risk. So there isn’t anything stopping us from growing the plants, as long as we abide by all of the rules and follow the health and safety regulations. So that’s not an issue.
Mohammad El Hajj 36:01
The nicotine content is also very important. Now, there are other things that we don’t worry about, for example, contamination from animal pathogens, or bacterial endotoxins. These are inherent disadvantages of the mammalian systems or microbial systems, which is now commonly known as precision fermentation. We don’t worry about these things, because plants are generally recognized as safe, and they don’t carry over these contaminants.
Mohammad El Hajj 36:35
So this is when it comes to the to regulations. But it has to be addressed by all of the different players, and we are one of those players. Now, other challenges that are related to our technology, well It’s not necessarily a challenge, but it’s something that we want to address in order to expand the horizon of the proteins that we can produce in our system, chloroplasts.
Mohammad El Hajj 37:05
They don’t carry out all of the modifications that eukaryotic cells or animal cells can carry out. So because the chloroplasts like evolution, and it’s a prokaryotic organism that invaded the plant cell, and it thrives inside. So basically, it has features of a prokaryotic system, which is the symbol like bacteria as a prokaryotic and then eukaryotic, which is like animal cells and implant sense. So it can carry out some modifications, and then there are certain modifications that it cannot carry out.
Mohammad El Hajj 37:45
One of the things that it cannot do is something called glycosylation. Glycosylation is post translational modification that sometimes is essential for activity and it’s also essential for stability of the protein. So in our case, luckily, the growth factors are non glycosylated. Or at least the ones that we are producing and the ones that are of interest to the cultivated meat sector, and even if they are glycosylated, it’s not needed for their activity. But then there’s always ways of optimizing the system and engineering a pathway of glycosylated, or adding these sugar groups to the protein in order to make them active or a statement. This is a technical challenge that we can always think of, to, to enhance or advance our technology,
Andrew D Ive 38:42
in terms of validating the effectiveness of your growth factor, do you need a certain quantity? I mean, are you guys looking to create a certain quantity that you can then give to companies that are trying to work on cell lines? How do you go from where you are, and maybe you’ve already done this, go from where you are to producing a certain volume that you can then go test with other companies to see whether you’re getting the efficacy you’re looking for?
Mohammad El Hajj 39:22
Well, at this scale, the cell based meat industry is at now, we are already producing a lot of the protein that we can start sending samples. So anyone who’s hearing us and is interested in growth factors, just reach out to us and we will happily send both factors that we have for them to test on their cell lines. And then if they are interested in any other growth factor that we haven’t yet included in our production pipeline, please let us know about it.
Mohammad El Hajj 39:48
So we already have plenty of protein that we’ve manufactured and they are stored at minus 18. We’ve already spoken to a number of cell based meat companies and that was the significance of Big Idea interest that they’ve connected us to them and they’ve expressed interest, so we’ve agreed to send the samples. Thing is they are at different stages. Some of them will start the testing later in the year. We wanted to send samples to SuperMeet back in December, but then because of logistical issues of sending samples on dry ice, it has been delayed, but the samples are ready. And it’s just about addressing all of the obstacles for moving biological material between countries.
Andrew D Ive 40:37
Are there different kinds of cells that you believe your growth factor will have either more or less impact on? So for example, bovine versus marine versus, you know, whatever?
Mohammad El Hajj 40:55
We don’t have the answer yet. Actually, this is one of the things that that we will address very soon. So just recently, we added a new co founder to our team. Rania Derani. Rania has been in the tissue engineering industry for so many years, she was trained in the US, and she joined us in November, and one of her responsibilities is to set up a system for validating our growth factors on species specific cell lines. And that way, we will be offering our customers our growth factor which will have been tested on the cell line that they are interested in.
Mohammad El Hajj 41:41
Because most of the time, all of the growth factors that are currently available on the market, they are usually tested on mouse cell lines, then they need to do a lot of optimization once they acquire those growth factors. We want them to receive protocols that are specific to the animal cell lines that they are working on. So this is something that we will be developing in house. But answering question, whether the one that we have now works better on beef or a porcine, it hasn’t been tested yet.
Mohammad El Hajj 42:15
This needs to be tested. But we know for example, the protein that we have, it works so well on adipocytes, and these are fat cells compared because you know, the cultivated meat is just not muscle cells, it’s muscle cells, fat cells, and a number of other cells. So we know that it enhances proliferation of fat cells. So this could be very interesting to people that are looking at all the other cells and uncultivated means.
Andrew D Ive 42:43
Interesting. Okay, fantastic. Given that you’re based in the UK at this point, are you anticipating at some point taking your team or your technology to other parts of the world?
Mohammad El Hajj 43:00
We have so we haven’t put a block or ruled out moving out of the UK. Actually, just yesterday, we were speaking with General pool in France. Everything is open. Ideally, we want a facility where we are in proximity to a glass house where we grow our plants, and then we process them in theory, and also if we’re going to go with a partner in order to help us with the downstream processing, we will need to look at all of these things. So yeah, it could it could happen.
Andrew D Ive 43:34
I’m not suggesting you move from the United Kingdom. I’m just suggesting that you have other places in other markets where you do what you do as well.
Mohammad El Hajj 43:44
We use plants and plants need a lot of light. Then if we’re talking about growing them in the field, I don’t know how favorable the climate in the UK is to grow them in the fields. I think the regulatory framework and everything we need in terms of Open Access lab Rothery and also like Manchester, so we have like excellent labs and excellent entrepreneurial ecosystem surrounding us. So we’re happy where we are based right now but then we’re exploring other places where we can have facilities that includes all of the things that we need to have in place.
Andrew D Ive 44:23
Perfect. So Mohamed, I’ve taken up more time than you probably promised me. So quick question. If someone’s listening and wants to help you in some way, what kind of help are you looking for right now and do you anticipate needing over the next six months or so?
Mohammad El Hajj 44:43
So in our case, as I’ve mentioned, if there are any cell based meat companies listening to us now, if you’re interested in TGF beta, which is the protein that we’ve got now or any other proteins, including the FgFs and the IGF, please reach out to us. We are more than happy to send you samples. One of the things that we are trying to do now is acquire satellites in order to validate the growth factors in house. So if anyone can help us acquire those cell lines in order to do the testing in house, that would be great. And then the third one is we want to establish this infrastructure for global delivery. So also, if anyone can support with this, that would be excellent.
Andrew D Ive 45:30
Perfect. Are you also looking for new team members, new funding, new funders, new investors, etc.
Mohammad El Hajj 45:39
Investors at this point we’re very close to closing around now. It’s just about doing the legal work now and hopefully, announcing it or making it public. If anyone is interested to listen to our story at this point, and then start talking about Series A, we’re more than happy to do that. We’re actually speaking with a number of VCs for series A involving them very early on with our technology and our company. So Investors very welcome. Employees. Most of us in the company have a technical background. We want to expand the team to include people in communication, we want to include people also in finance. In a few months time, we’ll be advertising jobs in finance and in communications.
Andrew D Ive 46:39
So where do people find out about Bright Biotech? If people are interested in just finding out more about you, about the company, about your mission?
Mohammad El Hajj 46:50
Yeah, so they can reach out to us on on our website, www.brightbiotech.co.uk. So this is our website, there’s a contact form, if they want to send us an email. Also, they can find us on LinkedIn. It’s bright biotech. And yeah, so they can also reach me reach out to me on LinkedIn, which is Mohammad-khalin-el-hajj
Andrew D Ive 47:24
Are you also on LinkedIn?
Mohammad El Hajj 47:27
This is LinkedIn.
Andrew D Ive 47:27
So if I, if I go to LinkedIn and type in Bright Biotech, you guys are going to pop up?
Mohammad El Hajj 47:35
Yes, we should.
Andrew D Ive 47:37
I also just googled it. Bright biotech.com is currently for sale for $50,000. So I’m guessing somebody’s sitting on that, or is that you guys?
Mohammad El Hajj 47:48
Know, I wish it was. From day one we wanted to purchase the.com but it was taken, so we went with the co.uk.
Andrew D Ive 47:57
That maybe with the next fundraising, you go buy it…
Mohammad El Hajj 48:01
Yes but then they will increase the price knowing that we’ve raised the money.
Andrew D Ive 48:05
Yeah, well keep that a secret until after you do the deal. Mohamed, I really appreciate your time today. We’ve had a number of conversations with cell based companies, some companies sort of tackling the growth factor side of the equation. But this was probably the most knowledgeable interview we’ve had, made me look ridiculous, but I don’t care. That’s what I’m here for.
Andrew D Ive 48:33
I really appreciate you taking us through it. I’m sure there are people here, who will just kind of go up that learning curve just from listening to your conversation today. And they can always go do some more work after after hearing you talk. Or maybe they can reach out to you and ask you questions themselves.
Mohammad El Hajj 48:51
I am happy to speak to them if they’re interested. And thank you very much, Andrew, for having me on the podcast. I was actually looking forward to it and I’m very glad that it happened. I really enjoyed it.
Andrew D Ive 49:04
I’ve seen you on stage. I can’t believe you’re an introvert. I’ve like you know, we’ve done that. We’ve done the old demo day in Paris. You standing up there and rocking the whole room of people. Yeah, you as an introvert. I never really put those two words together. You know those two things together?
Mohammad El Hajj 49:20
Yeah, no, definitely. I am. And then this is what I’ve enjoyed about this learning process. And yeah, so I used to get exhausted from engaging with so many conversations, but now I look forward to meeting people and discussing what I’m doing and then hearing from them their feedback. So it’s Yeah, so I think I’m still an introvert, but it doesn’t exhaust me any more engaging and talking to people.
Andrew D Ive 49:47
We’re gonna send you a t shirt with “I am an extrovert” now that you can wear around the lab. Okay, so bright brightbiotech.co.uk. Muohammad is the CEO and founder or co founder. So he’s offered to answer your questions, everyone who’s listening, which is, I don’t know five people, my aunt, my uncle, my grandmother, I don’t know who’s listening. Thank you so much, Mohamed. I appreciate it. I’m going to press pause in a moment and again thank you for coming to the big idea podcast where we focus on food today.
Mohammad El Hajj 50:29
Thank you very much, Andrew.
Andrew D Ive 50:37
Thanks for coming along to the podcast today. I hope you enjoyed the conversation with Mohammad from Bright Biotech. If you have any questions, please do reach out to us. Come along to Big Idea ventures.com. Or reach out to us via LinkedIn. YouTube, or one of the many places we’re available. You can also reach out to Mohammad at Bright Biotech, if you have any questions for him. Okay, hope you enjoyed the podcast. Love to get any feedback, questions or comments you might have. I’m Andrew Ive, the founder of Big Idea Ventures, here to talk to you about some great companies on every podcast. So that’s it. I look forward to hearing from you. Have a good day. Bye
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