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Key Takeaways from our Second Cell Ag in Canada Virtual Series Event

We had four Canadian academic leaders sharing their thoughts on where the cell ag industry stands today. If you missed out, we’ve got you covered! Here are the key takeaways from the discussion.

Published April 24, 2024 | Updated April 24, 2024 | Yadira Tejeda-Saldana

If you’ve been following our blogposts, you might have read about the Landscape of Canadian Science and Technology in Cellular Agriculture Virtual Series we have been hosting in collaboration with District 3 Innovation Centre and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)

Our latest event, with around 40 participants, featured four leaders paving the way for academic research in Canada. If you missed out, no worries at all! We’ve put together a handy summary with all the key highlights.

Infrastructure and Scaling Up:

Cellular agriculture startups struggle with access to infrastructure and capacity across the entire supply chain, necessitating low-cost facilities for validation and subsequent funding rounds. Academic institutions are vital in providing the necessary infrastructure for R&D and scaling up cellular agriculture, particularly in areas like fermentation and mammalian cell culture.  Canada has a substantial number of academic institutions across the country that can facilitate access to infrastructure for startups, highlighting the importance of academic-industry partnerships. Moreover, access to expert researchers and trained personnel can further support the industry’s growth.

Given the industry’s early stage, assessing the resources available in Canada to foster a national ecosystem by establishing numerous hubs for experimentation across the country could support faster technology development.


Consumer Acceptance and Preferences:

The impact of consumer preferences and attitudes towards cellular agriculture products cannot be overstated. Initial products could significantly influence consumer perceptions of the entire industry, underscoring the need to ensure that offerings meet and exceed consumer expectations, particularly in terms of taste and texture.

Cost remains a significant barrier to widespread adoption. Lowering production costs demands innovation throughout the value chain, from cell sources to bioreactors. Identifying niche markets with economic feasibility could facilitate initial entry and eventual scaling up.


Interdisciplinary Collaboration:

The importance of collaborative interdisciplinary research cannot be emphasized enough in addressing the multifaceted challenges in cellular agriculture. It involves pooling expertise from various fields, including social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering, to tackle issues comprehensively and drive innovation. In other words, it requires finding a common language that everyone in a team can connect with. Interdisciplinary collaborations can help direct the development of a product into a path where there will be more consumer acceptance. 


Intellectual Property (IP) and Academia:

There’s a discussion about the challenges and considerations regarding IP in cellular agriculture. Universities and startups may have different priorities when it comes to IP ownership. Still, collaboration between academia and industry can help speed R&D and overcome scaling up challenges. Therefore, to balance the need for open innovation with commercial interests, both parties need to negotiate to determine the right approach from a business perspective. Universities have the resources to handle IP filings and take on associated risks, which frees up operational capital for startups. Working within an academic setting can also mitigate risks for companies, especially when utilizing funding from agencies.


Advantages of Academia:

Academia offers advantages such as access to top talent and expertise, infrastructure, and funding opportunities. Universities can provide access to resources that may not be readily available elsewhere, and a platform for interdisciplinary research and collaboration, which can help de-risk projects for startups. For example, in the natural sciences, you’re working towards the same goal: developing a product or technology. However, in the social sciences, outcomes may not always align with company goals, providing opportunities to redirect or update companies’ business models.


Role of Funding and Investment:

Financial resources are critical in driving progress in cellular agriculture. Governmental funding, venture capital, and academic grants support research and infrastructure development. However, fluctuations in funding availability, although expected in emerging sectors such as cellular agriculture, can impact the pace of innovation and talent acquisition in the sector. Government funding plays a key role that can help create an ecosystem and de-risk the emerging sector by enabling public foundational R&D, multiple experimentation and scaling up trials.  


In a nutshell, academia is pivotal in advancing cellular agriculture across multiple fronts. Firstly, academic institutions serve as vital hubs for research and development, offering essential infrastructure and interdisciplinary expertise. This support is crucial for startups facing challenges in accessing necessary facilities for validation and scaling up their operations. However, startups and academic institutions must understand the need to balance open innovation and commercial interest.

Stay tuned for the announcement of our third virtual event, where we’ll be diving into government perspectives!

Thank you to Tarika Vijayaraghavan from Trove Biosciences for contributing to this summary with her takeaways from the event!


About the Authors
Yadira Tejeda-Saldana is New Harvest's Director of Responsible Research & Innovation - Canada