Should Organovo Investors be Worried About Insphero?

Several months ago, we published an article titled “Organs-on-Chips: An Alternative to 3D Bioprinting?” in which we speculated that 3D Bioprinting small samples of organ tissues to use for drug testing could be displaced by organs-on-chips. Organovo (NYSEMKT:ONVO), the only publicly traded 3D Bioprinting company, commands a market cap of over $500 million with just minuscule revenues because investors believe that 3D Bioprinted tissues will disrupt the drug testing industry when products are finally commercialized. While Organovo scientists have a +$40 million cash stockpile to use for R&D, they may not have much time. One little known Swiss startup company, InSphero, claims to be “the world leader in 3D cell culture technology for safety and efficacy testing” and has commercialized 3D InSightTM Liver Microtissues.

About Insphero

Click for company website

A spin-off company of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and the University Zurich, InSphero was founded in 2009. The Company was named the #1 Swiss startup for 2014. Headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, Insphero has subsidiaries in the USA and Germany, and currently counts all of the top 15 global pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies as their customers. Insphero has a broad portfolio of 3D tumor and liver microtissues available for both humans and rats. The Company’s 3D liver tissue pipeline can be seen below:


A brochure with extensive product information can be found here. The company has 10 commercial partners they are working with to develop their technology and 17 academic collaboration partners including the University of Queensland with whom Organovo recently announced an agreement with. Since 2011, InSphero operates under an ISO-9001-certified quality management system, a requirement that is no doubt mandatory for the world’s top pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies.

InSphero is also project coordinator for a three-year project funded by the European Commission called “The Body on a Chip“. The objective of the project, which includes Astrazeneca as a participant, is stated as follows:

High attrition and failures rates in pharmaceutical and biotechnological drug development require a paradigm change towards more physiological human cell-based assays at an early time point in the process. The central idea of this proposal is to develop a versatile and reconfigurable pharmaceutical screening technology platform that relies on organotypic three-dimensional spherical microtissues. This platform will accommodate different types of human microtissues (tumor, brain, liver, heart etc.)

With total funding of $2.4 million, the project is expected to conclude in May 2015.

Organovo vs. Insphero

According to Organovo, “2D cell cultures of human liver are the common standard used in the industry today, with over 90% market share“. They also state “3D culture models do not achieve adequate representation of human biology, as evidenced by the fact that 40% of total pharma R&D spending is on drugs that fail in human trials“. But if 90% of the market share is currently 2D cell cultures, is it really fair to say that 3D cell cultures are not adequate because 40% of current R&D spend is on drugs that fail?

Organovo’s claims that an advantage of their 3D Bioprinted liver tissues is that they last for 40 days instead of 2 days for 2D cell cultures. Insphero’s 3D liver microtissues last for over 35 days. When Organovo (NYSEMKT:ONVO) finally brings 3D Bioprinted liver tissues to market, they will then need to demonstrate that their tissues are superior to those currently available from InSphero or any other non-3D bioprinted 3D liver tissues for that matter. It is hard to see why Organovo investors should not consider InSphero a legitimate competitive threat to Organovo (NYSEMKT:ONVO) .

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