Bioprinting is a Multi-Billion Dollar Pharma Opportunity for 3D Printing

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Organovo CEO Sheds Light on its Breakthrough Bioprinting Technology and Roadmap Ahead

One of the most exciting and promising applications of 3D printing is bioprinting, the ability to manufacture living human tissue and possibly organs. And one of the most exciting companies in this field is Organovo.

Organovo (NYSE MKT: ONVO) designs and creates functional, three-dimensional human tissues for medical research and therapeutic applications. The Company collaborates with pharmaceutical and academic partners to develop human biological disease models in three dimensions. These 3D human tissues have the potential to accelerate the drug discovery process, enabling treatments to be developed faster and at lower cost.

Keith Murphy, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Organovo, spoke last week at the Inside 3D Printing conference in San Jose, CA.

Keith Murphy Organovo Keynote

Organovo’s NovoGen Bioprinting is based on a scaffold-free bioprinting process. The cellular “bio-ink” is supported architecturally by hydrogel. The hydrogel can later be removed, leaving only the 3D cellular strcture. The system allows deposition of any structure.

“It enables the creation of tissue that is 100% cellular,” said Murphy during his keynote at the 3D printing conference.

Mr. Murphy shared several applications of his company’s bioprinting technology as well as his future roadmap. The key applications are:

  • Vascular bioprinting
  • Tissue patching
  • Drug discovery with incredible savings for Pharma R&D

Creating Human Arteries and Living Tissue with 3D Printing

Organovo has been able to create simulated human arteries that are developed outside of the body using vascular bioprinting. They are viable tissue with layered architecture. These arteries are able to withstand 6 times the normal blood pressure and therefore may be implantable in the human body.

Consider patients who experience trauma or disease and need arterial transplants. 3D printed arteries could be game-changing for this class of surgeries.

With similar technology, Organovo can create living tissue, such as heart tissue, that can be implanted during surgery and thrive with the existing tissue. “We can build tissues that are significant larger than any other approach,” said Mr. Murphy. Before bioprinting full organs can be commericalized, which Murphy hinted may be in the future, simple tissue can be generated and stitched into the body.

Organovo Pink Sheets Secondary 3D Printing

How Bioprinting Can Save Big Pharma Billions

Over the last 15 years, the cost of Pharma R&D has dramatically increased from $15 to $50 billion per year, and yet the number of FDA approvals has remained constant if not declined. See the chart below for a visualization of new molecular entities (NMEs) vs total R&D spend per year.

Bioprinting FDA Approvals R&D Cost

(Source: Discover Management Solutions)

Mr. Murphy knows from his personal experience of working at Amgen for 10 years how much money can go into the development and testing of a potential blockbuster drug only to be rejected during human trials. Some Big Pharma companies spend upwards of $1 billion per drug before final FDA approval. Therefore, the best practice is to speed through animal trials as fast and with as little cost as possible, because the real learning comes during human trials.

This rising R&D cost creates a massive opportunity for bioprinting to give Pharma companies an opportunity to get pre-clinical data on how a drug will work in a human system before even starting animal trials.

This is a multi-billion dollar opportunity.

Organovo creates human cells, for example liver cells, that are deposited and developed into tissue. A disease can be introduced to that tissue in a controlled fashion, and then a variety of independent therapies can be applied. This means that you can outright reject or move along potential drug therapies in a matter of weeks rather than years. Just imagine the hundreds of millions of dollars in savings per blockbuster drug.

Watch the video below for to see Organovo’s process in detail.

The technique of testing therapies on human cells is not new, but Organovo’s approach using 3D printing to generate living tissue is the breakthrough. Organovo’s tissue can live up to 30 days.

“The old rule of thumb in tissue engineering is that you can’t more than 250 microns away from the surface because the cells will die from lack of oxygen,” explained Mr. Murphy, “but we can get to a millimeter by building a capillary structure, getting growth of microvascular networks.

This achievement results in nuanced improvements over what one can get in animal models.

The key applications are Pharma drug discovery and toxicology testing.

Organovo’s Future

Today, Organovo is a public company with a $430 million market cap. But in the next few years, the company could revolutionize drug discovery and tissue therapies.

Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo, shared his outlook on the company’s future milestones:

  • Development and launch of 3D Liver
    • Scientific proof of concept – April 2013
    • Functional validation: testing against known drugs – December 2013
    • Delivery to KOLs: alpha and beta testing – April 2014
    • Product launch – December 2014
  • Follow on cell assay product launches
  • Multiple additional pharma partnerships
  • Developed disease models
    • Cancer model readouts over 12-24 months: kidney, others
  • Therapeutic tissue proof of concept and path to clinical


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Want to learn more about the evolution of bioprinting? Check out the infographic below, entitled Printing the Human Body.

Infographic Bio 3D Printing

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4 Responses to Bioprinting is a Multi-Billion Dollar Pharma Opportunity for 3D Printing

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