Israel Innovation Authority earmarks $69m for food, medical tech projects

Four new consortiums to focus on cultivated meat, insect farming, fluid sampling for medical diagnosis, and human-robot interface

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.

This January 16, 2019 photo shows a a first lab-grown steak during a presentation by the Israeli company Aleph Farms, in Jaffa, Israel. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
This January 16, 2019 photo shows a a first lab-grown steak during a presentation by the Israeli company Aleph Farms, in Jaffa, Israel. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The Israel Innovation Authority announced on Wednesday that it earmarked NIS 220 million ($69 million) to establish four new consortiums in the fields of cultivated meat (or lab-grown meat), insect farming, fluid sampling for medical diagnosis, and human-robot interface (HRI), a multidisciplinary field that studies interactions between humans and robots.

The consortiums, a group of industrial companies and research institutions that will jointly develop technologies, will use the estimated budget to operate over the next three years, according to the announcement.

The IIA said the move represented “one of the largest public-sector investments in cultivated meat in the world, bringing together leaders from the industry and academia.”

Israel plays a “substantial role” in the alternative proteins global market and is considered a pioneer in the field, with Israeli startups raising a record amount of money from investors in 2020, according to a report published this year by The Good Food Institute Israel, a nonprofit organization that seeks to promote research and innovation in the field. The cultivated meat sector is poised to thrive in the next few years when companies transition from the development stage to production, the report said.

This year, Israeli cultivated meat startup Aleph Farms raised a $105 million round with investors including Leonardo DiCaprio, to bring lab-grown steaks to market. MeaTech 3D, an Israeli maker of lab-grown, 3D-printed meat products, also drew an investment this year for an undisclosed amount by a group of investors led by actor Ashton Kutcher.

According to analyst estimates, the global cultivated meat industry could reach $25 billion by 2030.

A rib-eye steak produced from meat cells cultivated in a laboratory by Israeli start-up Aleph Farms. (Courtesy: Aleph Farms/Technion Institute of Technology)

The IIA’s cultivated meat consortium will be led by the innovation division of Tnuva, an Israeli food company with a significant share in the dairy market. It will work in collaboration with “Israeli cultivated meat companies, various startup companies relevant to this field, industrial companies for the production of animal meat products and leading researchers from Israeli academia,” according to the announcement, to help Israel “maintain its status as one of the world leaders in the field.

A second consortium will focus on the development of technologies surrounding black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens) and their larvae, insects that are being touted as an essential part of the agricultural industry to break down organic waste, and protein-packed, inexpensive animal feed. This initiative will be piloted by Prism, a company that specializes in technologies for improving and preserving the reproduction of black soldier flies, alongside other companies operating in insect agriculture and organic waste treatment, animal feed firms, and leading academic researchers.

An illustrative photo of a Black Soldier fly. (Brett Hondow via Pixabay)

The third group will work to develop sensors and technologies to detect biological markers for early diagnosis of diseases like pancreatic cancer, fatty liver and Alzheimer’s, by non-invasive means. This consortium includes a number of unnamed startups, headed up by Israeli biotech company Senseera Health, and academic and medical researchers. The group will develop “unique capabilities for fusing a number of biological markers and the sensing of a number of molecules in advanced sensors with very high sensitivity,” the IIA said, which will “make a significant contribution to public health.”

The fourth consortium in the initiative will develop capabilities to improve HRI “to promote and streamline a variety of robotic tasks common to humans and autonomous systems.” The group is led by Elbit, an Israeli defense company, in collaboration with robotics companies and academic researchers from academia. Together, they will develop a “kit of generic capabilities that can be integrated into a variety of robotic applications in a simple and efficient manner,” according to the announcement.

HRI activities are “valued by the Israel Innovation Authority as an important technological field that may boost the capabilities of the Israeli robotics industry and enable many vital applications for both the civilian market (nursing, hospitals, industry, and logistics) and security needs,” the IIA said.

“The four new consortiums we have approved speak to the Authority’s strategy of supporting groundbreaking technological areas with the potential for a significant economic impact, with a substantial need for government involvement. Such government involvement is especially required in areas where cooperation would not otherwise take place without the active support of the Israel Innovation Authority,” said IIA CEO Dror Bin.

“Two of the consortiums – cultivated meat and medical diagnosis – are, inter alia, the result of extensive activities by the Authority over the past two years to promote projects in the field of bio-convergence, which we believe, are likely to have a significant impact on the Israeli economy,” he added in reference to technologies applied in the fields of biology combined with engineering such as electronics, AI, computational biology, physics, nanotechnology, and materials science.

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