CellX secures $4.3M to deliver 3D printed pork to China

Shanghai-based food tech start-up CellX has raised $4.3 million in its second round of funding, having recently debuted its 3D printed cell-based pork meat at a tasting event.

The funding round was led by Beijing-based venture capital firm ZhenFund and included participation from the likes of Lever VC, Better Bite Ventures, Sky9 Capital, and K2VC.

The new funds will be used to fuel the company’s research and development operations as it looks to become the first homegrown start-up to commercialize cultivated meat in China. CellX will also look to expand its team with new hires, and form scientific partnerships with various institutions to advance its 3D bioprinting technology. 

CellX's 3D printed cell-based pork meat. Photo via CellX.
CellX’s 3D printed cell-based pork meat. Photo via CellX.

The burgeoning market for 3D printed meat

While 3D printed cell-based meat is yet to be commercialized in China, elsewhere in the world this is starting to become a reality as the demand for alt-meat offerings continues to grow.

Earlier this year, Israel-based food 3D printing firm Redefine Meat launched its first series of ‘New-Meat’ products to selected restaurants and hotels in Israel, consisting of plant-based burgers, sausages, kebabs, and other alt-meat offerings. The range is planned to be extended to Europe later this year, and to the US and Asia in 2022. Redefine Meat holds ambitions of becoming the “world’s largest alt-meat company” by the end of the decade, and has grown rapidly since its founding.

Elsewhere, fellow Israeli food tech start-up MeaTech has revealed plans to enter chicken fat production next year, having acquired cultured fat products developer Peace of Meat in December last year. The company is also looking to scale the bioprinting of pork cells, having successfully 3D printed an edible cultured beef fat structure last year.

Most recently, 3D printing food company SavorEat partnered with global hospitality firm Sodexo to carry out a pilot of its Robot chef food 3D printer at select US universities, with the goal of commercializing its 3D printing technology and products to eventually secure distribution agreements for the US market. 

The Redefine Burger – reportedly the world’s first 3D printed premium restaurant-style burger, packing 170 grams of New-Meat. Photo via Redefine Meat.
The Redefine Burger – reportedly the world’s first 3D printed premium restaurant-style burger, packing 170 grams of New-Meat. Photo via Redefine Meat.

CellX’s 3D printed pork

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the carbon emissions of animal husbandry account for around 14.5 percent of global carbon emissions. With cell-based meat products and technologies making it possible to skip the feeding and slaughtering of animals during the production process, ethical, environmental, and financial benefits can be gleaned from the development and commercialization of lab-grown meat.

CellX was founded last year by a science-led team, and is reportedly one of just a handful of companies in China working on developing cultured meat directly from animal cells. The company’s team of 25 scientists is currently working on the development of the firm’s 3D bio-printed cultured meat structures and scaffolding prototypes, which it recently unveiled at a tasting event.

The pork samples were created using a combination of tissue engineering and 3D bioprinting technologies. The process works by harvesting cells from China’s native black pig and 3D bioprinting them into pork structures with the taste and mouthfeel of animal meat. 

During the tasting event, the samples were tried by investors and leading players within the alt-protein market.

In addition to its cell-based pork products, CellX is also looking to expand its tissue engineering and bioprinting processes to develop cultured fish, in light of Asia-Pacific consumers being predicted to drive nearly 75 percent of the projected rise in seafood demand in the coming years. 

A 3D printed cell-based meat prototype developed by CellX. Photo via CellX.
A 3D printed cell-based meat prototype developed by CellX. Photo via CellX.

Next steps for CellX

For now, CellX’s focus is centered on the Chinese market, where food security is unsettled in light of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and rising livestock diseases, such as African swine fever. 

While discussions are happening around the potential of lab-grown meats to bolster the country’s food resilience, China is yet to approve the sale of cultured meat. As such, CellX will need to navigate hurdles such as regulation and consumer acceptance as it looks to commercialize its 3D printed meat offerings.

So far, the CellX team has reduced the cost of its 3D bioprinting technology by five times, and plans to reduce it by 10 times next year. By 2025, the company hopes to achieve costs that are competitive with animal meat in order to make commercialization a reality.

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Featured image shows CellX’s 3D printed cell-based pork meat. Photo via CellX.