Ramya Ramamurthy• April 26 2019

Indian government grants over $600,000 to cell-based meat research

The grant is one of the largest investments ever made by a government in cell-based meat research and offers further promise that India is willing to make visionary investments in the nutrition security of a growing global population.

The future of the global food system has just received another shot in the arm in India.

In February, the Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai (ICT), and the Good Food Institute announced a plan for a Centre of Excellence in Cellular Agriculture to take on open access-research and help private industry enter the sector. Now, two months later, the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has separately granted $640,000 (Rs 4.5 crores) to Hyderabad-based institutes Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) and National Research Centre on Meat (NRCMeat).

The grant is one of the largest investments ever made by a government in cell-based meat research and offers further promise that India is willing to make visionary investments in the nutrition security of a growing global population. It’s also strong evidence in favor of the impact an expert organization like the Good Food Institute can have in emerging markets, coming as it did after CCMB Director Dr. Rakesh Mishra and GFI-India managing director Varun Deshpande had presented the project proposal to DBT in October 2018. GFI-India will continue to lend its expertise and support to this project, which along with the ICT Centre of Excellence will help create a thriving and profitable ecosystem for cell-based meat in India.

A bold step forward

The benefits of cell-based meat have been well-documented in these pages and others. Yet, while governments have a unique opportunity to increase food security and meet climate goals by investing in its development, public funding has been slower to mobilize than private investment from the likes of Cargill, Tyson, Richard Branson, and Google Ventures. Now, the Indian government is helping to change that.

Our work in India is underpinned by the need to sustainably nourish a population which will account for a sizeable portion of the global meat demand growth over the next decades. It’s a challenge which calls for bold solutions, and cell-based meat is integral to the agenda. Varun has been engaging deeply with Indian government organizations and institutes of research since he joined us in December 2017, and has been filled with optimism by their inclination to invest in transformative technology.

CCMB has been one of our primary partners in exploring possibilities in the sector and co-hosted the Future of Protein summit in Hyderabad last year along with GFI and Humane Society International/India. After a few further months of preliminary scoping, Varun and Dr. Rakesh Mishra, the director of CCMB, presented a proposal for funding to DBT in Delhi, in October 2018.

Partnership in progress

The research project by CCMB, which will take shape over the next 24 months, will seek to develop optimal methods to cultivate stem cells from tissue samples of mutton (sheep). GFI will continue to assist CCMB scientists’ efforts by bringing to bear our global expertise and network of private industry players including major biopharma companies. Dr. Rakesh Mishra said the project will help to “develop technology to take laboratory cell culture process to cell-based meat production which can be scalable. This funding is one of the major initiatives by any government body across the world and much-needed encouragement for other agencies and industry to participate.”

It’s incredibly exciting to see bold initiatives at multiple research centers in India, each leveraging their own core capabilities in the various technology elements of cell-based meat. As an institute with strong expertise in cell culture, CCMB is very well-placed to support the development and immortalization of cell lines and optimization of non-animal based cell culture medium.

The Centre of Excellence at ICT, meanwhile, will build on their status as the pre-eminent Indian institute for chemical engineering to investigate the crucial question of scaling up cell-based meat. GFI-India’s ultimate aim? Help establish the country as a base of talent and manufacturing, the platform on which cell-based meat reaches every corner of the developing world within and outside its borders.

Our hope is that our partnerships with these world-class institutes will ultimately converge to form a laser-focused group tackling some of the world’s most pressing problems through the development of tasty, affordable protein. This grant is a big step in that direction.

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