Infant nutrition is finally growing up
Announcing our investment in BIOMILQ
by Sara Eshelman and Brandon Walker
tldr: BIOMILQ is founded by two of the most creative, ambitious, and mission-driven women we’ve ever encountered. They think differently about what’s possible and are building a radically values-driven company that supports its employees as much as it aspires to support its eventual end customer — children and families. And when successful, BIOMILQ will change how women and families operate, creating a more hopeful and equitable future for families of all types.
Talk to any new mom in the thick of learning how to keep her new tiny human alive and you’ll quickly understand her sacrifice — sleepless nights, physical recovery, and new levels of stress and anxiety about the decades-long journey she’s just embarked upon. And amidst all of this, she’s trying — and very often struggling — to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is hard, often painful, and doesn’t work for many women, not to mention the litany of other family structures, from adoptive parents to same-sex couples to babies born by surrogacy.
Despite the difficulties with breastfeeding, breast milk is known to be important for babies’ health. It contains a unique nutritional profile as well as antibodies that simply can’t be replicated by traditional formula-makers. As a result, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months and continued breastfeeding (supplemented by complementary foods) for 1 and 2 years, respectively.
Despite those organizations’ intentions and efforts, few families actually achieve this. 84% of US infants are breastfed at birth; that number drops to 58% (25% exclusively breastfed) after 6 months and a mere 35% at 12 months. The state-of-the-art supplement for natural breastfeeding has always been baby formula — a composition of milk components with a dark history that falls short of standard breastmilk in its nutritional value.
But, after years of development in cell biology in both the medical and food innovation worlds, we finally have the tools to challenge this status quo. BIOMILQ is the first company to successfully produce human milk outside of the body, creating the world’s first true alternative to breastfeeding. The two co-founders are Leila Strickland, a cell biologist who has spent over a decade refining techniques for growing milk-producing mammary cells, and Michelle Egger, a food scientist with a passion for infant nutrition sparked by her work with nutrition programs in developing countries.
Their accomplishments to date are no small feat. The world of mammalian cell research is vast: traditionally, most commonly showing up for medical applications to test the effects of new drugs and compounds on 2D cultures of cells, with more recent and buzzy applications in the culture and assembly of cells within 3D scaffolds to create products like lab-grown meats. The BIOMILQ project sits atop decades of innovations in cell biology research, including countless studies on growth and survivability of mammalian cells, developments of improved growth conditions and factors needed to keep cells healthy and capable of consistent growth and production, and innovations in bioreactors to ultimately scale these processes.
Leila and Michelle are building a team of elite cell biologists, biochemists, and engineers to continue to tackle the challenges that lie ahead — and more importantly, they’re building a mission-driven organization where the majority of these technical experts are also parents who have lived through the challenges of not having this product.
We’re thrilled to join Michelle, Leila, and the BIOMILQ team on their journey and welcome them to the Spero family!