BIOMILQ, a biotech startup producing human breast milk from cultured cells, reveals its technology is on pace to reach the market in the next three to five years. Aiming to disrupt the $52 billion infant formula industry, BIOMILQ is working to combine the nutrition of breast milk with the convenience and practicality of formula.
Based in North Carolina, BIOMILQ raised $21M in Series A funding in 2021 from backers that included Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures. To make human milk outside of the body, BIOMILQ grows mammary cells from sample breast tissue and milk provided by local donors, reports CNN Business. The cells are then cultivated in flasks and fed nutrients before incubating in bioreactors, which provide additional nourishment and growth requirements, stimulating the cells to secrete milk components.
A new feeding option
Compared to dairy-based infant formula, BIOMILQ’s product more closely matches breast milk’s proportions of protein, fats and carbohydrates, says co-founder and Chief Science Officer Leila Strickland. After struggling to breastfeed her own first child, Strickland was inspired to explore the possibilities of culturing human milk after seeing the world’s first cultivated burger in 2013.
According to the World Health Organization, only one in three babies receives the recommended amount of breast milk in their first six months, leading many parents to depend on dairy-based formulas. BIOMILQ says its products will provide mothers with a new, higher-nutrition option that is dairy-free.
Strickland is careful to note that BIOMILQ cannot fully replicate all of the nutrients found in human milk, such as certain hormones and fatty acids. To bring the company’s products to market in 3-5 years, the startup will have to culture mammary cells at a much larger scale and at significantly lower costs. Furthermore, regulatory hurdles will require the company to prove cell-cultured milk is safe for babies, which could be an extensive process. “There isn’t really a regulatory framework that exists,” Strickland says.
Still, BIOMILQ’s research could lead to increased knowledge and major breakthroughs in infant nutrition, a profound benefit both the startup and its investors want to be a part of.