Eight 3D Bioprinting Companies for Medical Solutions
In the United States, nearly 107,000 people are on waitlists for organ transplants. The problem is even bigger worldwide, with millions of people waiting to get their hands on an organ. The trouble is that there’s only so many organs to go around. While China is filling in the tremendous demand with its $1 billion organ black market, and Iran is selling organs legally, the rest of the world is looking for a
less shady more sustainable option. 3D bioprinting organs has often been touted as the holy grail for facing these supply challenges.
In a similar manner to how traditional 3D printing works, 3D bioprinting involves layering patient-derived stem cells one-by-one in a biocompatible material to construct an organ-like structure. The stem cells are programmed to differentiate into the specific cell types by the scaffolding material, usually collagen or a synthetic plastic that mimics collagen, creating a hybrid composite that can be transplanted into a patient. The two keys to this technology are the bioprinter, which extrudes the material into a 3D form from a computer-generated model, and the bioink, which is the mixture of cells, scaffolding, and nutrients that makes up the 3D-bioprinted organ.
One of the first biotech companies to commercialize bioink was CELLINK (CLNK-B.ST). Founded in 2016, this Swedish company has been a leading player in the bioprinting space by providing the tools and materials for the entire workflow of 3D bioprinting. That means it’s been selling branded bioinks, bioprinters, biomaterials, consumables, sanitizing wipes, toilet paper. You name it, CELLINK’s got it. We own a little chunk of CELLINK and recently gave a play-by-play on how to get a piece of the action.
Here’s another eight 3D bioprinting companies that are making sure our aging population has a tailor-made set of replacement organs for the next couple of decades, so they can use up all their hard-earned retirement savings.
3D Bioprinting Companies for Bioink and Biomaterials
Israeli-based CollPlant (CLGN) was founded in 1981 and now sports a market cap of $205 million. One of CollPlant’s signature ingredients and products is its human Type 1 collagen, called rhCollagen, produced in genetically engineered tobacco plants. The company uses this clinical-grade collagen as part of the scaffolding of its bioprinting technology and bioink.
Because rhCollagen is actually derived from the human genetic code, it exhibits better properties and lower risk of immune rejection compared to other collagens. That makes up part of its successful secret sauce for biocompatible bioinks, dermal fillers, and 3D-printed breast implants. We’re confident that many of the cast members in The Real Housewives of Orange County are now sporting CollPlant in one form or another. (It’s a stock we took a closer look at days later.)
Based in the Windy City, Dimension Inx is a bioprinting startup founded in 2017 that’s grabbed a total of $3.2 million in funding through a Seed round from a group of life science venture capital firms back in 2020. The company is designing biomaterials that mimic the microenvironment of the human body so that the body can use the materials as a scaffold to heal itself.
In layman’s terms, a surgeon can cut up a patient and shove in one of Dimension Inx 3D printed fake bones, made from medical-grade ceramic or metal, and pray to the medical gods that the patient’s body doesn’t reject it. The hope is that the body starts to grow around the implant. The first commercial application of Dimension Inx’s biomaterials is implants for facial reconstruction of patients with physical trauma, dental malformations, and defects from aging. The Kardashians might be ready for a nice set of Dimension Inx hardware in the next couple of years.
3D Bioprinting Companies for Tissue and Organ Transplants
Founded in 2014, 3DBio is headquartered in The Big Apple and has brought in a total of $28.5 million to focus on designing personalized living tissue implants for patients. 3DBio has a suite of proprietary processes and biomaterials used to ensure its manufactured tissues and organs meet FDA requirements. The company’s technology starts with its GMPrint bioprinter, a current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) technology that uses aseptic workflows to make sure that next artificial heart doesn’t start growing fluffy mold once it gets sewn into a patient’s chest. 3DBio also has its own therapeutic-grade bioink, ColVivo, which is a collagen-based biomaterial used to construct scaffolding during bioprinting.
The company is working on four tissue and organ products to treat four different diseases and congenital medical conditions. These include 3D-bioprinted ears for underdeveloped ears, noses for nasal defects, and tissues for herniated or degenerative disks. These are all in the pre-clinical stage. We can’t wait for 3DBio to start working on another collagen-rich organ that men around the world are looking to extend.
Representing the Lone Star State is Volumetric, a biofabrication company that was founded in 2018 and has added $2 million to its coffers after a series of Seed rounds that closed in 2020. Notable investors include tech accelerator Y Combinator and the Methuselah Foundation, a life-extension non-profit. Volumetric partnered with CELLINK to design its market-ready signature Lumen X Bioprinter, a nice piece of hardware that combines microfluidics, lab-on-a-chip, and living tissue all in one.
The bioprinter constructs 3D models of tissues and organs using biocompatible photoinks, which are specialized inks that harden into a hydrogel when exposed to UV light. We’re not sure what all that technical mumbo jumbo means, but the bioprinter was featured in two research publications in 2020 so that must mean something good.
Founded in 2018, Finnish startup Brinter is piecing together a modular 3D bioprinter for the medical market after raising $1.45 million in June 2021. The company has plans to build out tissue and organs for transplants but is currently focusing on bioprinting scaffolding to direct the differentiation of stem cells harvested directly from patients. The module design of its bioprinter allows clients to switch out dispensing tools and integrate third-party tools so applications can be customized for specific needs.
Brinter wants to get its fingers in a lot of pots, with commercial applications of its bioprinter for basic research, drug and toxicity screening, tissue models for cancer research, and eventually, bioprinted tissues and organs. The company is also touting that its bioprinter can be used to design personalized drugs, where multiple pharmaceuticals can be printed into a composite matrix as a single pill. No more late-night searches on those microdosing forums for that perfect cocktail of psychedelics.
3D Bioprinting Companies for Clinical Research
Founded in 2016, San Francisco-based Prellis Biologics is a bioprinting startup that’s building human tissues for drug development, and eventually working to design human organs for transplantation. We covered Prellis Biologics back in 2019 as part of our regenerative medicine company recap. The company has since pulled in $10.6 million after a Convertible Note agreement that closed on April 2020, with the likes of Khosla Ventures and IndieBio at the investment table. Prellis Biologics is working together with CELLINK on Holograph X, a high-resolution bioprinter that can match the detail of microcapillaries and other fine-resolution biostructures. We’re waiting for the day surgeons start secretly etching their names into patients’ organs with these bad boys.
The company is touting its Externalized Immune System (EXIS) platform as a clinical solution to the problem of researching immunity. By pulling out immune cells from healthy donors, the platform can bioprint organ-like lymph nodes and stress them with an antigen from a virus, bacteria, or other pathogens, to produce antibodies. According to Prellis Biologics, the process allows researchers and biomedical companies to discover human-grade therapeutic antibodies in less than three weeks, versus 9 to 12 months in animal models. AbCellera, take note.
Oakland-based Frontier Bio was founded in 2018 to manufacture tissue and has brought in $825k after a Seed round that closed in 2020. The company is focused on building blood vessels, nerves, and muscle tissues for good ol’ fashion research and development, as the first commercial application. The game plan is to eventually develop those tissues into implants for unmet clinical needs.
We’re thinking Frontier Bio wants to biomanufacture patient-specific blood vessels for coronary artery bypass surgery, for those of us who visit McDonald’s one too many times. Frontier Bio’s current clients include UC Berkeley and the Mayo Clinic.
Bulgarian 3D bioprinting firm Printivo came into existence in 2016 and has since raised $363k after a Pre-Seed round that ended in 2020. The startup is putting its attention on bone tissue, especially on its complex micro-architecture that requires highly precise cell layering. Since bone is rather complicated, containing four different cell types all interacting with one another, a 3D-bioprinted bone-mimic can model the complexity of human tissue inside a human.
The company is providing these bone tissue grafts to pharmaceutical companies so they can be used for more accurate drug testing in pre-clinical research. This strategy is slightly better than shoving untested pharmaceuticals into the drinking water of lab rats.
There are now more than 100 bioprinting companies around the globe, each of which is providing tools, materials, services, and applications for the emerging field of tissue and organ engineering. But experts agree that we’re still 10 to 15 years away from constructing more complicated, fully functional human organs for high-need transplants.
While the power to design personalized tissue and organs could allow parents to one day build the perfect child that can get into the Ivy Leagues on an athletics scholarship, right now the technology is still limited to providing biomaterials for basic research and breast implants for former beauty queens.
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