ImpactAlpha, June 17 – Durham, N.C.-based BIOMILQ began tampering with the idea of a lab-grown baby formula alternative back in 2013, when “cellular” foods, like lab grown meat, were in their infancy.
The company has raised its first institutional funding round to replicate human breast milk using mammary cells and eventually market the product as a more nutritious alternative to cow-milk based formulas. Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Blue Horizon Ventures, Purple Orange Venture and Shazi Visram, founder of organic baby food company Happy Family, backed the round.
Why lab-grown breast milk? It’s recommended that babies consume only their mother’s breastmilk for the first six months of their lives. But there are a host of reasons mothers can’t do that: they don’t produce enough milk, or their careers don’t give them the time or space to nurse or use breast pumps as they need to. “Eighty-four percent of moms in in the U.S. convert partially or entirely to formula in first six months. They need better options,” BIOMILQ’s Michelle Egger told ImpactAlpha.
The company is still developing its lab technology and process and expects that it could be several years yet before the product reaches consumers, because of a number of hurdles the company will have to navigate. “The FDA’s regulatory pathway isn’t clear. There isn’t much research on the composition of breast milk. And also, it’s illegal to sell breast milk in the U.S. right now,” says Eggers, noting that this is because of concerns about human exploitation. “There is a pretty robust breast milk black market in the U.S.”
BIOMILQ is confident that unlike lab-grown meats, which are struggling to reach a competitive price-point with standard meat products, it can launch its product at the same price as higher-end formulas. Then the work will be getting the price down to mid-range formulas, and eventually to a level that mothers in low-income countries could afford. Egger, who previously investigated alt-protein affordability for emerging markets for the Gates Foundation, said the company is committed to developing an affordable and accessible for mothers of all income levels.
Bonus fact: Due diligence for BIOMILQ’s round was all done virtually during COVID. “We’ve never met any of our investors in person,” said Egger. “Everything has to be done virtually now—this is the new world we’re all getting used to.”