As discussed in our previous blog, regenerative medicine (RM) is of critical importance to the future of healthcare. Yet despite the grand vision for what could be achievable, the field has been slow to develop, largely because of technology and engineering challenges that prevent promising RM applications from moving from small-batch experimental studies to large-scale clinical deployment. The challenges the RM field faces aren’t too different from what biologic-based therapeutics faced approximately 30 years ago; just as those challenges were solved, so too will the challenges currently facing regenerative medicine scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.
One technology platform that could help RM move forward is bioprinting. For those unfamiliar with bioprinting, it is the use of computer-guided printing devices that position living cells and materials layer by layer in order to produce bioengineered structures, in much the same way 3D printers build plastic devices. Unlike other approaches for creating the scaffolding and other engineered materials needed for RM, bioprinting offers unparalleled levels of accuracy and reproducibility. The technology platform integrates components of a wide range of cross-cutting fields, including fabrication, computer-aided robotics, biomaterials science, cell biology, and biophysics. According to a recent report from Grand View Research Inc., the bioprinting market is expected to reach $1.82 billion by 2022 at a compound annual growth rate of 17.9 percent. Interestingly, it is currently being used to develop 3D living tissues that can be used in a range of scenarios that include drug testing, disease modeling, therapeutic tissue replacements, and transplantation.
As Innovation Advisors, we routinely scan for emerging technologies and look for specific signals that a given technology [or technology class] is about to experience exponential growth. We believe that bioprinting is an enabling platform necessary for the advancement of RM and that it is at the tipping point where R&D leaders must take notice. We believe this for the following reasons:
- Broad applications. There are several immediate opportunities for bioprinting. One important application is the ability to use bioprinting to produce scalable, reliable, and reproducible in vitro models for drug-testing, which are less costly than currently available options. Another is to create simple transplantable anatomical structures for therapeutic purposes that supplant current gold-standard treatments. Both applications have the potential to positively impacting the development cost, speed-to-market, and efficacy of novel medical therapies. Organovo, as an example, is currently leading the in vitro model market with its ExVive™ kidney and liver products. The purpose of both models is to offer researchers alternative methods to testing drug interaction and pharmacokinetics in non-animal models. Organovo is also working to develop a liver tissue patch that is bioprinted using a patient’s own cells and implanted into the patient in order to reconstitute hepatic functionality. Two other companies, Aspect and Poietis, are leading efforts to develop skin and muscle airway models, and Poietis has already commercialized their 3D skin model in collaboration with L’Oreal for cosmetic testing in France. These companies are emblematic of the growing number of young companies actively bringing bioprinted products to market.
- Funders are leaning in. Early-stage investors are proactively engaging the market. Large pharmaceutical entities are moving bioprinting companies in-house, new players are flooding the field, and stakeholders are collaborating at every level of development. At the federal level, agencies such as the U.S. Department of Defense and NASA are committing extensive resources to advance bioprinting, and regulatory bodies that include the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are working to address and prepare for the imminent impact of bioprinted products. In fact, in September of 2018, the National Science Foundation awarded multiple institutions $20 million grants to study and develop biomaterials specifically for use in bioprinting applications.
To further reinforce the expanded interest in both regenerative medicine and bioprinting, dedicated ecosystems such as the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute [ARMI], and the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine are also growing rapidly and creating relationships with traditional and non-traditional partners.
- Engineering advances. Bioprinting is advancing rapidly and is demonstrating unique technical capabilities that are unmatched by other currently available approaches. As mentioned earlier, bioprinting utilizes specialized 3D printers, modelling software, and printable biomaterials to provide high-fidelity and highly modular bioengineered tissue models. Bioprinting is also scalable, allowing industry players to manufacture large varieties of tissues in an automated and repeatable way. It is the timeliness of multiple, highly impactful engineering advances that, when coordinated in unison, will allow bioprinting to become a key platform for accelerating regenerative medicine.
We believe that bioprinting has the potential to address some of the key hurdles that have held back the development of regenerative medicine. As Innovation Advisors, we’ve codified our perspectives on potential impacts of regenerative medicine, and we’ve developed forecasts and commercialization timelines for specific regenerative medicine products, including those generated via bioprinting. if you’d like to know more about how we can support your work in regenerative medicine or bioprinting, please contact us.
About the Authors
Leslie Wainwright, Ph.D. leads our health practice; is passionate about entrepreneurship and innovation; and has experience that spans academic research, pharma/biotechnology, and healthcare delivery. She has worked with executive teams from multi-national organizations and startups alike to design growth strategies, create alternative business models, and evaluate emerging clinical and care delivery technologies. Additionally, she spent several years addressing innovation and how healthcare organizations build their own sustainable innovation competencies. Leslie is a speaker and facilitator on the future of health care, enabling technologies, disruptive innovation, and emerging business models, domestically and abroad. She is passionate about STEM education and is on the Women’s Board of the Field Museum in Chicago, where she works to expand opportunities for girls in science. Leslie received her Ph.D. in microbiology at Northwestern University, completed postdoctoral research training at the University of Maryland’s Center for Vaccine Development, and received a BA in biology from DePauw University.
Andrew Thomson consults on commercial challenges in the life sciences space. With experience stemming from both the commercial and technical sides of the industry, Andrew provides value in the form of strategic development and quantitative analysis and has consulted on team-based projects across numerous therapy areas with early-stage biotechnology and top healthcare companies.