Impossible Foods closed a $75 million investment this week after achieving significant milestones in intellectual property and food safety.
The lead investor in the round is Singapore-based investment company Temasek. Open Philanthropy Project, Bill Gates, Khosla Ventures and Horizon Ventures will also contribute to the round. The company is not providing additional financial details.
Impossible Foods makes meat directly from plants -- with a much smaller environmental footprint than meat from animals. The company uses modern science and technology to create wholesome food, restore natural ecosystems and feed a growing population sustainably.
The company’s flagship product, the Impossible Burger, is made through a simple combination of plant-based ingredients. A key ingredient is “soy leghemoglobin.” Soy leghemoglobin is a protein that carries “heme,” an iron-containing molecule that occurs naturally in every animal and plant.
Heme is an essential molecular building block of life, one of nature’s most ubiquitous molecules. It is most familiar as the molecule that carries oxygen in your blood.
Heme is super abundant in animal muscle. It’s the abundance of heme that makes meat uniquely delicious.
To satisfy the global demand for meat at a fraction of the environmental impact, Impossible Foods discovered a scalable, affordable way to make heme without animals. The company genetically modifies yeast and uses fermentation to produce a heme protein naturally found in plants, called soy leghemoglobin.
The heme in the Impossible Burger is identical to the heme humans have been consuming for hundreds of thousands of years in meat -- and while it delivers all the craveable depth of beef, it uses far fewer resources.
The Impossible Burger uses about 75% less water, generates about 87% fewer greenhouse gases and requires around 95% less land than conventional ground beef from cows. It's produced without hormones, antibiotics, cholesterol or artificial flavors.
Earlier this month, the US Patent and Trademark Office issued US Patent No. 9,700,067 covering Impossible Foods’ technology to use leghemoglobin in plant-based meat. The 200-person startup has more than 100 additional patents pending.
“Our scientists spent so much time and effort studying a single molecule -- heme -- because heme is what makes meat taste like meat,” said Impossible Foods CEO and Founder Patrick O. Brown, M.D., Ph.D. “It turns out that finding a sustainable way to make massive amounts of heme from plants is a critical step in solving the world’s greatest environmental threat.”
In 2014, a panel of leading food safety experts gave the opinion that the Impossible Burger’s key ingredient, soy leghemoglobin, is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). GRAS means a food is safe to be consumed under US regulations.
Additional testing -- including a stringent rat feeding study -- provided even more objective, scientific data that the product is safe. That 2016 study examined whether consumption of soy leghemoglobin in amounts orders of magnitude above normal dietary exposure would produce any adverse effects. There were none. And a comprehensive search of allergen databases found that soy leghemoglobin has a very low risk of allergenicity, and it’s shown no adverse effects in exhaustive testing.
Later this month, Impossible Foods will provide this study and additional data to the FDA, including the opinion of the expert panel. The FDA publishes such data online, available for public viewing.