Significant challenges face the nascent industry of cultivated meat in everything from media optimisation to process development and scaling production. To that end, we are pleased to introduce Dr Kiren Baines, who joins us as co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer.
Kiren has a PhD in Dynamic Cell Biology and brings a wealth of industrial experience as a team leader and expert in cell biology, analytics, and bioprocessing. As Extracellular enters an exciting phase in partnership and growth, we sat down with Kiren to learn more about her and her new role.
Extracellular: Why were you drawn to study biological sciences initially and what inspired you to pursue a career in biological sciences?
Kiren: I’ve always been drawn to the environment, and I love animals and nature. I actually wanted to study environmental sciences for my undergrad, but I was advised to start with biosciences, with the option to specialise later in the course. I did specialise, but in cell biology and genetics! I loved the intricate and complex detail of how cells function. From the genetic makeup to the complex signalling pathways, I have always been drawn to the detail. Taking that further and thinking about how we can manipulate cells, with the knowledge we have to create novel therapies, then became a big driver for me. However, I never lost my passion for the environment.
Extracellular: Is that what drew you to the cultivated meat space? What do you find exciting about it?
Kiren: Yes, I gravitated towards this industry, ultimately, because it has so much potential to make a positive impact on the environment as well as millions of people worldwide. I think that if I can leave the world a better place than I was born into, that would be one of my greatest personal achievements. Cultivated meat ties all of my passions together – this deep understanding of cell biology, cell and tissue engineering, efficient analytics and making a positive impact by using more sustainable practices. It still blows my mind a bit!
Extracellular: You’ve worked in the pharma industry, honing your expertise in cell biology and analytics in senior roles. How do you think these skills will play a role in cultivated meat and cellular agriculture broadly?
Kiren: This is a new industry and there is much to learn. Understanding and characterising cells and their behaviour, for example in response to certain growth factors, helps us create a pool of knowledge we can reliably draw from, translating that into reduced costs and scaled-back timelines for processes and ultimately making the technology more commercially viable.
I really want to focus on data analysis as well. In biopharma and biotech as a whole, there has always been something missing – just a fraction of the data obtained is used to draw meaning from an experiment. I want to see the whole picture and realise the potential of data.
Extracellular: There are several challenges on both the business side and the technical side of the company. For you as well, there is the personal challenge of getting to grips with this industry in a new role! What is the biggest challenge facing you right now?
Kiren: There is so much to do within this sector! I think setting up our capabilities and getting our products on the market whilst optimising process development and media development for our industry colleagues are the big challenges. If I could wave a magic wand, it would be to find a way to scale a process reliably and consistently, batch after batch. Consistency is an important factor in this industry.
For now, my biggest challenge is prioritisation. As an analytical cell biologist that has a deep understanding of bioprocessing, I can see the gaps out there that need to be filled but there are so many! There is media formulation, cell lines, scaffolding… So, I will need to prioritise while being diverse. Fortunately, we have an amazing team and everyone is really passionate about our common goal.
Extracellular: You have mentioned a passion for advocating diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. Can you tell us more about why you see this as important and how you might implement these values in your new role?
Kiren: Diverse companies are often the most innovative as everyone is thinking from different perspectives. I also think that celebrating diversity is critical to us as humans. I’m British-Indian, so I celebrate both Christmas and Diwali. I think it’s wonderful that people from other cultures can celebrate Diwali with me. Celebrating together allows people to be open, honest, and transparent with each other.
In the workplace, having open and honest conversations matters. Feeling like your voice isn’t heard, or that you can’t put your views across, is a terrible shame. Celebrating individuality and diversity helps people feel comfortable and encourages them to bring their opinions forward. I think when people feel like they’re heard – regardless of their ethnicity, gender, or religion – then you can have those magic moments where we all come together, share, and solve problems using our diverse mindsets.
Extracellular: Finally, we’d like to know more about the real Kiren! Who are you when you’re not leading cutting-edge innovation?
Kiren: I spend most of my time outdoors and in nature. My partner and I have a dog, a Collie, and we like to go on long, challenging hikes too. Another hobby I’ve developed in the past few years is birdwatching. I find it quite soothing, we live close to some fields and can see these cool birds of prey flying really low.
I also love travelling abroad and experiencing new cultures and, of course, eating as much food as possible! We recently went to Croatia, island hopping and ended up on the island of Mljet. It was absolutely beautiful. We did lots of snorkelling, saw so many fish, and – best of all – there was no phone signal. It was great to get back to nature like that.