Notes from the 2016 Cellular Agriculture Innovators’ Workshop

by Isha Datar, Executive Director of New Harvest

On July 14, 2016, New Harvest hosted the first invitation-only workshop for industry, academic and government stakeholders in cellular agriculture.

The venue for the Cellular Agriculture Innovators’ Workshop

The workshop was designed as a platform for frank dialogue about the challenges of innovating in cellular agriculture. It was off-the-record and under Chatham House rules.

Among the 60 participants were cellular agriculture companies, academic researchers, regulatory experts, Big Ag, and chefs. Our goal was for cellular agriculture scientists and entrepreneurs to learn from the history and advice of experts in related and established fields, and in turn, to expose the government and large companies to this emerging field.

There were three main discussion sessions, beginning with a speaker presentation, followed by extended Q&A and group discussion:

Session 1 — Dr. Robb Fraley, CTO of Monsanto

Robb has been with Monsanto for 35 years, from the very early stages of research on GMO crops. Robb provided storied insight into communicating food biotechnology, grounded in his experience of Monsanto’s own difficulty in communicating with the broader public about complex science. 2016 actually marks the 20th anniversary of the first commercial biotech crops, which were one of the most controversial scientific innovations to be commercialized in the last quarter of the century.

Session 2 — Dr. Mary Maxon of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Before becoming Biosciences Principal Deputy at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Mary was Assistant Director for Biological Research at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the Executive Office of the President, where she developed the National Bioeconomy Blueprint. Mary covered public-private partnerships and pre-competitive collaborations for the advancement of cellular agriculture, specifically looking at government programs that could assist in moving the field forward.

Session 3 — Dr. Vince Sewalt, Senior Director of Product Stewardship and Regulatory of DuPont Industrial Biosciences

Vince focuses on innovative ways to foster product stewardship, safety, and regulatory compliance in organizations and on facilitating regulatory capacity building in emerging markets. Vince explained emerging safety & regulatory paradigms relevant to cellular agriculture. This was particularly practical as the whole room discussed current and hypothetical regulatory pathways for various cellular agriculture products.

This workshop was the first in a series of events designed to bring experts in existing fields before cellular agriculture pioneers to learn from their predecessors’ mistakes, capitalize on their predecessors’ successes, and prepare for the road ahead.

Despite overwhelming interest in cellular agriculture, New Harvest remains the only organization focused exclusively on advancing the progress of this interdisciplinary field. Working at the nexus of universities, start-ups, biotech companies, government, and venture capitalists, these workshops are the logical next step in New Harvest’s work to build the infrastructure for an ecosystem of innovation in cellular agriculture. As a nonprofit, New Harvest is uniquely capable to create opportunities for exchange and collaboration across disciplinary, ideological, and geographic boundaries.

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