The long road to gaining regulatory approval for cultivated meat has led Jimi Biotech to explore new options, including its latest development — cultivated deer antler stem cells.
“Although we managed to reduce the cost of serum-free media to RMB50 (USD7) per litre, achieving price parity with traditional meat will still take several years. If our product is more expensive, only few people will try it. Our long-term goal is definitely cultivated meat, but that’s the fact we have to live with for now.
“On the other hand, deer antler is a premium product that has a big market in China and other Asian countries. We now have the ability to make this valuable and popular product at a lower cost. We believe it will provide a better path for commercialisation as our very first product, and can generate steady and substantial revenue more quickly,” Yikai Wang, Operations Director of Jimi Biotech, told FoodNavigator-Asia.
The deer antler stem cells took more than a year to be developed, with the biggest challenge being getting to immortalisation without genetic editing.
This was overcome by JEVOS (Jimi Evolution System), the firm’s in-house automated, high-throughput and AI-driven platform that speeds up the optimisation of cells and culture media by over a hundred times.
According to Wang, the quality and price of deer antler varies in different parts of its structure.
“For example, the price of the lower parts is about RMB8,000 (USD1,116) per kg, while the top part can reach as high as six figures. Usually, it is around RMB50,000 (USD6,980) to RMB100,000 (USD13,956) per kg.
“Our deer antler stem cells are mainly derived from the most expensive part, but our production cost is a lot cheaper — in the low thousands. Our strategy is to move from high-value products to more affordable ones, so we will start with deer antler, then beef, and finally chicken and pork.”
Branching out to nutra and cosmetics
Deer antler is used in traditional Chinese medicine and dietary supplements for its reported health benefits, such as anti-ageing and anti-fatigue.
As such, Jimi Biotech is in the midst of developing supplements with its cultivated deer antler stem cells.
“Traditionally, more elderly people consume deer antler products. However, we are seeing a strong trend, especially in China, where people in their 20s and 30s are taking various supplements to improve their health. We also see a lot of nutraceutical companies designing their products to better cater to the young generation’s consumption behaviours,” said Wang.
He cited the example of ginseng, which used to be mostly consumed by seniors but are now popular among young people, after a beverage company in China put it into their product.
“Lots of young Chinese are drinking it on a daily basis because they like the concept of getting functional benefits from a beverage. Therefore, we will create our product in a way that not only targets the elderly group, but also the younger generation.”
Still a work in progress, the supplement is likely to be in tablet form and is subject to regulatory approval before it can be brought to market, with the firm aiming to launch it by next year.
At the same time, Jimi Biotech plans to supply its deer antler stem cells as an ingredient to cosmetics companies and aesthetic clinics.
“These companies are always interested in innovations, and many of them have already talked to us. We are going to build our pilot factory in the first half of 2024, and trials using the deer antler stem cells are ongoing. Once these are completed, we will be ready to start commercialising and supplying the ingredient,” Wang shared.