If I had to choose one company in the broad 3-D printing space that has me the most pumped about the prospects of the technology, it’d be Organovo.
I first wrote about this San Diego-based company’s groundbreaking organ printing technology back in June. And Chief Investment Strategist, Louis Basenese, followed up with his own take on the company’s prospects in October.
Since then, the company was named one of the 50 Most Innovative Companies by the MIT Technology Review. Along with giants in the tech industry like Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), Samsung (SEO: 005930), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Intel (Nasdaq: INTC).
And for those investors waiting anxiously for a way to play this game-changing company, it’s now trading on the OTCQB Exchange under the ticker symbol ONVO.
Here’s a brief review of how Organovo’s technology works – and how the company’s already using it to cash in.
Pioneering the Organ Printing Boom
Organovo is a unique 3-D printing company, because instead of using plastics or metals for “ink,” it uses human cells instead.
Basically, scientists harvest stem cells from various tissues. The cells then form binding particles, which are inserted as a cartridge into the company’s NovoGen MMX Bioprinter.
The bioprinter then discharges the particles in a specific formation and they’re placed in a bioreactor, which replicates the environment in the body. The idea is that this tricks the cells into maturing and growing together like they normally would.
For instance, Organovo was able to arrange heart cells in a grid using the bioprinter. And after the particles fused together in the bioreactor, the structure actually began beating just like real heart tissue. And the company can perform this same feat with other tissues, as well, using cells from the lung, liver, muscle, etc.
Better yet, the machine can also discharge a separate biological gel that acts as scaffolding for the stem cells. This process is used to develop more complex structures.
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It’s how the company was able to construct vascular tissue (i.e. – veins and arteries). The cells are placed in a designated pattern with the scaffolding forming the curved foundation and interior. Then, after the incubation period, the gel is removed, leaving the hollow artery behind.
Organovo’s ability to print vascular tissue is huge for the company’s future growth, since providing an adequate blood supply is key to eventually developing fully functional organs from scratch.
Of course, we’re still years away from that. But the company is confident that functionally equivalent organs are on the way.
However, that doesn’t mean investors have to wait long for Organovo to cash in…
The Missing Link in Drug Testing
While Organovo continues to work toward printing full organs for transplant patients, the company’s set to corner a different market in the medical industry: drug testing.
You see, while drug companies attempt to get new treatments approved for use, 20% to 50% of drug candidates never make it to human clinical trials. Partly because preclinical trials like animal tests aren’t capable of realistically determining how a drug is going to affect a human’s biology.
Current studies can be performed on human cells in a petri dish. But taking cells out of their natural, three-dimensional environment makes these tests unreliable. So this method isn’t ideal when trying to predict how a drug makes cells interact with actual tissue, like you would with a new cancer treatment. Same goes for toxicology testing, that is, measuring the effects of new drugs on the liver.
But Organovo can develop a functional, three-dimensional human liver sample. So drug companies could simply test a treatment’s effects on that before attempting to move on to the human trial stage.
As Organovo says, “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.
The obvious potential has drug companies sniffing around. In fact, Organovo has already scored its first pharmaceutical partner: Pfizer (NYSE: PFE).
The deal is a win-win for Organovo, since Pfizer dishes out an upfront licensing fee and funds the research. And Organovo gets to maintain intellectual property rights to new tissue constructions that develop through the partnership. And if the drug is eventually developed, Organovo gets a cut.
I’m convinced we’ll see more deals signed in the near future. Especially considering drug development costs can range anywhere between $4 billion and $11 billion according to Forbes – and Organovo can help ensure that these new drugs will be worth the investment.
Investors are beginning to see the potential, too, as shares have jumped 60% in just over a month. But I’m convinced that the stock will only charge higher in the weeks and months ahead.