Lab-grown breast milk: Singapore’s TurtleTree Labs expects to launch products in 2021

By Guan Yu Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

While many companies are developing infant formula that closely mimic breast milk, TurtleTree Labs believes their product is the closest thing to real breast milk ©Getty Images
While many companies are developing infant formula that closely mimic breast milk, TurtleTree Labs believes their product is the closest thing to real breast milk ©Getty Images

Related tags: Singapore, stem cells, Breast milk, Infant formula, lactoferrin

A Singapore start-up is aiming to launch lab-grown breast milk by 2021, and is seeking to work with major formula brands to deliver the “closest thing to real mothers’ breast milk”.

TurtleTree Labs’ technology utilises stem cells from volunteers, which are then used to create mammary glands that can lactate. The firm also uses the same technology to produce cow’s milk, as reported by FoodNavigator-Asia​.

Currently the majority of our volunteers are from Singapore. We are lucky that the diverse population provides us with a wide variety of milk​,” said the firm’s chief strategy officer Max Rye.

Although the firm started with bovine milk, they moved into human breast milk for good reasons.

We found that human breast milk will not only have a major impact on human infant nutrition, but it is also not a commodity, which means the price point can be higher​,” Rye told NutraIngredients-Asia​.

Cost-wise, the firm believes they can reach S$35 (US$26) per litre by the end of 2020. They will be showing the technology in April 2020, but the first products are not expected until Q1 2021.

The firm does not plan to develop its own branded milk, but rather, wants to work with existing infant nutrition companies to eventually scale up production of its breast milk using their technology.

The closest thing to breast milk

While many companies are developing infant formula that closely mimic breast milk, TurtleTree Labs believes their product is the closest thing to real breast milk.

Rye said: “(Other) companies are developing formula which comprises of a combination of cow milk powder, vegetable extracts and many more ingredients,

“Although so much efforts have been made, they have not come close to the nutritional value of real human mothers’ milk. Our product will be the closest thing to real mothers’ breast milk which means that it will also have the best nutritional value that infants need to develop healthily​.”

Rye told us the breast milk they produce is bioidentical to a human’s breast milk, but they are currently lacking antibodies.

We currently do not have the antibodies as it comes from the mother's blood, however our research team is working on that​.”

Advocate for breast feeding

We asked if TurtleTree Labs can replicate certain aspects in breast milk which are tailored to every individual infant, such as lactoferrin levels which increases when the infant is ill, Rye explained: “The personalised levels of lactoferrin that mothers provide to their baby is unique, we can only aim to be as close as possible,

“We are huge advocates of breastfeeding and encourage mothers to continue as long as they are able to​,” he added.

Rye said the firm is already working on other mammals apart from cows and humans, and will be collaborating with the industry to identify consumer needs and trends.

The firm had recently completed its pre-seed round, which was led by Lever VC, a venture capital fund specialising in alternative protein investments, as well as KBW Ventures (founded by Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed from Saudi Arabia) and K2 Global.

"What TurtleTree Labs is doing is fascinating, and their technology could be a serious disruptor in the global dairy industry​," said Nick Cooney, founder and managing partner at Lever VC. "They are the first company in the world producing real, whole milk from cell cultivation -- which opens the door for safer, healthier and customized dairy products that can be produced with far fewer natural resources​."

Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud, founder and CEO of KBW Ventures remarked, "KBW Ventures' interest in TurtleTree stems from both the team vision and the company's strategic approach to the future of food using stem cell technology. Having spent time with the founding team in Singapore, we have a lot of confidence in TurtleTree's progress as a biotech company and in the direction they are taking from a business perspective.​"

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