The cellular agriculture spin-off from VTT uses a commercially-proven Trichoderma technology to solve environmental problems associated with eggs, one of the world’s most used animal proteins.
The Finnish biotech startup Onego Bio Ltd has announced the successful closure of EUR 10 million seed round with participation from venture capital investors Agronomics Limited and Maki VC. Onego Bio’s technology, developed and researched at VTT, enables production of bioalbumen with cellular agriculture means.
Bioalbumen is an animal-free egg protein, produced with a specific precision fermentation process that creates identical egg white protein without the need for animals.
The versatile egg white
The company believes that the demand for animal-free egg white protein will be growing globally, because intensive animal farming causes many environmental hazards, such as excessive use of land, greenhouse gas emissions, water scarcity, and the risk of global pandemics.
“We want to thank VTT and our investors for supporting a technology that is part of a bigger wave of changing people’s perspective on alternative ways of producing food. The time is right to spin out this technology and start manufacturing our product, as consumers are more open to try products that are not animal-derived,” says Maija Itkonen, CEO of Onego Bio Ltd.
Global egg production has almost doubled its volumes during the past 20 years and is forecasted to reach 138 million tonnes by 2030. At VTT, the team has developed a safe, sustainable and cost-effective cellular agriculture method for producing ovalbumin, the most abundant egg white protein. This biotech process, based on harnessing the microflora Trichoderma reesei for protein production, with the help of water, sugar and certain minerals, can provide significant environmental improvements to the egg white production. The team believes the chosen technology is superior because of its efficiency and productivity.
Cellular agriculture uses microorganisms and bioreactors instead of traditional animal farming. The method can be compared to beer production, in which microorganism is fed sugar to produce alcohol.
“VTT’s laboratories and technical teams have cutting-edge know-how to develop truly new innovations. We will continue working together with them on the scientific aspects, and together with our investors we simultaneously focus on commercializing the technology,” Itkonen continues.
Pilot plant to be built in Finland
Onego Bio Ltd will focus on building its pilot production in Finland during the coming years and acquiring the necessary commercial approvals for its first product, animal-free bioalbumen powder. The product will be first marketed in the United States, where the regulatory landscape allows for faster market entry.
Onego Bio Ltd is planning to market the product as a food ingredient for the bakery and confectionary industry, as well as a protein supplement for fitness products, and later enter the consumer market with its own branded products for baking and cooking.
“We have a big mission: We want to rethink eggs and give people access to a delicious healthy animal-free alternative. Egg white is a smart starting point for the next level proteins. Because of its unique functional properties like gelling, foaming, binding and emulsifying, the egg white is extremely difficult to replace with alternative ingredients. In many applications, egg is the last frontier before entirely animal-free end products can be manufactured”, says Itkonen.
“We are highly impressed with the Onego team’s capabilities, background, and their vision for the company. With their technology, they have the potential to produce bioalbumen at an industrial scale and at a price point that is competitive with conventional egg production which has major implications for the environment and animal welfare.
"Egg white production has a huge total addressable market and there is a necessity to utilize precision fermentation tools to meet the demand in a sustainable manner. We look forward to seeing what they can accomplish”, says Jim Mellon, Executive Director of Agronomics.
It is forecasted that food production based on cellular agriculture will lead to a disruptive change in the entire food system. The technology would not just have a positive impact on environmental issues but also reduce exposure to antibiotics, and contribute to global health by preventing infectious diseases, such as bird flu, from transferring to humans.
“VTT has world-class knowhow in the field of cellular agriculture and microbial based protein production,” says Tua Huomo, Executive Vice President, VTT. “In Finland there are great companies working on other areas of cellular agriculture, and now it’s time to set the bar high and have a position also for proteins that are traditionally sourced from animals. This action will be hopefully remembered as one of the great milestones towards the more sustainable and healthy food system,” Huomo concludes.
The project has been part of VTT LaunchPad, a science-based spin-off incubator, where VTT researchers and technology are brought together with the best business minds and investors out there to renew industries. VTT LaunchPad supports incubator teams to develop VTT owned IPR into fundable spin-off companies.
Onego Bio Ltd
Onego Bio Ltd
Onego Bio Ltd is a Finnish biotech company developing animal-free proteins such as egg white. The company, founded in 2022, is a VTT spin-off that salutes the remarkable work done by VTT for the next level cell ag products and applications. The Onego Bio Ltd shareholders include venture capital investors Agronomics Ltd and Maki VC.
The new company founded by a group of experienced entrepreneurs and scientists has acquired a technology license from VTT as an investment by VTT Holding. The seasoned Onego Bio Ltd founders include Maija Itkonen, CEO, who has a notable background as the plant based, alternative protein movement force in Finland, through her previous company Gold&Green Foods Ltd, and Christopher Landowski, CTO, a cellular agriculture innovator who is behind the main IP and initial model for producing the ovalbumin outside of chickens. The team is completed with Jussi Joensuu, COO who is not only a renowned scientist and molecular biologist, but also an experienced entrepreneur and farmer.
From left: Christopher Landowski, Maija Itkonen and Jussi Joensuu
Agronomics is a leading listed alternative proteins company with a focus on cellular agriculture and cultivated meat. The Company has established a portfolio of 18 companies at the Pre-Seed to Series C stage in this rapidly advancing sector. It seeks to secure minority stakes in companies owning technologies with defensible intellectual property that offer new ways of producing food and materials with a focus on products historically derived from animals. These technologies are driving a major disruption in agriculture, offering solutions to improve sustainability, as well as addressing human health, animal welfare and environmental damage. This disruption will decouple supply chains from the environment and animals, as well as being fundamental to feeding the world's expanding population. A full list of Agronomics' portfolio companies is available at https://agronomics.im/.
Maki.vc is a seed-stage venture capital firm based in Helsinki, Finland that champions the entrepreneurs who rewrite the future. The fund invests in deep tech and brand-driven companies across consumer and enterprise spaces. Maki.vc team and global network shares in the vision of entrepreneurs as champions and challengers, drawing on the experience of scaling some of the strongest technology companies. www.maki.vc.
Photo source: VTT
Biotechnology could provide an environmentally more sustainable alternative for egg white protein production
The research by the Future Sustainable Food Systems research group at the University of Helsinki together with VTT shows that fungus-produced ovalbumin could have the potential to mitigate part of the environmental burden associated with chicken egg white powder. This is especially true when using low carbon energy sources in the production.
Ref. Järviö, N., Parviainen, T., Maljanen, NL. et al. Ovalbumin production using Trichoderma reesei culture and low-carbon energy could mitigate the environmental impacts of chicken-egg-derived ovalbumin. Nat Food 2, 1005–1013 (2021).