Singapore- based biotech startup, Turtletree Labs uses stem cell technology to culture breast milk

Tue Jul 14, 2020 - 2:45am GMT+0000

Turtletree Labs offers patent-protected technology as a solution to make full-composition, full-functionality, full-flavour milk referencing humanely selected dairy cow cells, then mimicking the natural process of milk production in the lab.

The biotech startup seeks to challenge the value gap created by an insufficient and unsustainable animal-based dairy industry by culturing mammary cells in-vitro and inducing their natural ability to produce all components of milk. Cellular agriculture is entirely safe and is widely used in the market today.

Founded in 2019 by Fengru Lin, a passionate cheesemaker and Max Rye, the company has the potential to provide a healthier and more environmentally friendly option for women who are unable to produce enough breast milk on their own because of biological or environmental reasons.

“The reason we’re starting with human breast milk is because it’s one of the most expensive things out there, there’s a lot of interest from the infant nutrition industry,” said Rye.

The startup is trying to recreate the richness of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), which are the third most abundant solid component in human milk after lactose and fat. HMOs have prebiotic properties and are incredibly complex to replicate. Previous studies have underscored the value of HMOs in infant prenatal and postnatal development.

“We are able to produce the complete biomatch of the nutritional content of human breast milk. All HMOs, proteins and fats are replicated with our technology. A few areas that are unique to the mother are antibodies (coming from the mother’s blood) and the microbiota (coming from the mother’s gut),” highlights Rye.

TurtleTree Labs set their sights on working with cow’s milk over the long term: “We have to get the price down so we can reach an inflection point, so it no longer makes sense to raise cows for milk”, said the co- founders.

A few weeks ago, the company managed to secure US$3.2 million in seed funding to march head on with their plan to produce lab-produced cow milk and human breast milk from stem cells.

Those that participated in the pre- seed round are Green Monday Ventures, the renowned Prince Khaled’s KBW Ventures, CPT Capital, Artesian, and New Luna Ventures.

With support from the government agency Enterprise Singapore and the firm’s investors who provided resources, the biotech startup made good progress despite the pandemic. The company also gained support from other government agencies such as the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) and the national research institute A*STAR.

With the country’s economy slowly gaining stance, Turtletree Labs has continued its strike by winning US$1 million from Temasek Foundation, plus US$100,000 in investment funding and a spot on Antler’s accelerator programme from Planet Rise.

Right now, the company seeks to first address a propitious market opportunity in Asia, then move into other promising market areas similarly driven by increasing populations seeking better nourishment or encumbered by poor dairy infrastructure and declining environmental quality.