September 23, 2014      

Sooner than later there may be a whole lot of unemployed, but otherwise gleeful, research monkeys and lab mice?40,000 monkeys and 30 million mice annually for biological and medical research?that might be jobless forever.

Organovo (NASDAQ:ONVO), a publicly traded company based in San Diego, California, is printing human tissue, and on its way to printing human organs.

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It?s a reality that quite simply staggers the imagination with its even more staggering possibilities. It?s the end of helicopters landing at hospitals rushing refrigerated canisters of human organs to near-hopeless patients who?ve been praying for life-saving transplants. No longer will a patient?s immune system go hyper in rejecting an organ. The immune system will be looking at itself, at its very own tissue, grown somewhere other than in the host body.

Today, the company grows human tissue, but aspires to grow entire organs, hence, it calls itself Organovo and not Tissuenovo.

Casey Research describes the company as one that develops three-dimensional human-tissue printing technology to create tissue on demand for research and surgical applications.

Organovo?s NovoGen MMX Bioprinter creates ?fully functional tissues (and ultimately organs) cell by cell, based on the fact that a cluster of human cells (what the team at Organovo calls “bio-ink”) behaves just like a liquid. When placed next to one another, the bio-ink particles (each composed of between 10,000 and 30,000 cells) will flow together and fuse, forming layers or other shapes. To build 3D structures like organs, Organovo uses a printer to assemble the human cells into the desired shape.?

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Organovo, reports Seeking Alpha, ?is focused on the production of living tissue for pharmaceutical companies. Big Pharma is struggling mightily with R&D testing on animals, the results of which are often inconsistent with human testing. However, Organovo’s ability to mass-produce living tissue will eventually allow human-testing at every stage, and accelerate the pipeline of new drugs hitting the market?potentially saving and improving a countless number of lives.?

Imagine a single company having exclusive access to, say, the liver transplant market: With 6,000 patients receiving liver transplants every year and another 1,400 patients who die waiting, there is, according to Casey Research, a $525 million market in the U.S. alone. Average liver transplant runs about $70,000.

The immediate opportunity for the company is in tissue printing for drug makers, reasons Casey Research: ?Bringing a drug from the pre-clinical or discovery phase all the way to market can easily take more than a decade and cost significantly more than $1 billion. (Only about 1 in 10,000 compounds evaluated in the pre-clinical stage will ever successfully navigate the entire process.)

?A big part of that pre-clinical phase involves assessing safety and biological activity in the laboratory ? especially in animal studies. (It’s difficult to access reliable figures, but it’s safe to say that billions of dollars a year is spent on animal tests.) The problem with these animal models (without even touching on the various potential ethical issues involved) is that although they have historically been one of the most trusted tools in drug development, they are not actually all that predictive of the human situation. Not only do animal models fail to identify numerous drugs that are toxic to humans, they also derail drugs that would have been good treatments for patients.?

Organovo’s technology has the potential to help solve this problem. ?3-D printing is like a new tool set,? said Organovo Chief Executive Officer Keith Murphy. ?You can make a living tissue you can grow outside the body. That?s the core of our technology.?

?Organovo can fill the gap between animal models that are used today but often don’t provide the best answer and clinical trials in humans ? by creating this functional, living human tissue with a three-dimensional architecture that allows for doing drug testing there.

As Organovo scientists have said, “If this tissue resembles an equivalent to a human liver, architecturally, structurally, and even functionally, then we could use it to test the drug? after successful or promising animal trials. Then move on to real human trials if those tissue tests prove successful.”

?This is something that pharma companies have never had access to before, and it has the potential to lead to safer and more effective drugs and to do so faster and cheaper.?

See also: In Our Own Image: 3D Bioprinting Ourselves

About Organovo
Organovo Holdings, Inc., a development-stage company, focuses on developing and commercializing functional human tissues that could be employed in drug discovery and development, biological research, and as therapeutic implants for the treatment of damaged or degenerating tissues and organs. The company is developing a suite of standardized and three-dimensional human tissues for the preclinical assessment of drug effects, including applications in predictive toxicology, absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion, and drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics.