[Corrected 5/11/15, 3:30 pm. See below.] Testing cosmetic ingredients on animals has been a contentious topic for decades. Public opposition to such practices led the European Union and a few other countries to impose complete bans on such testing in 2013.
In the United States, legislation was introduced in 2014 that would ban animal testing and gradually ban the sale of animal-tested cosmetics. But the Humane Cosmetics Act never got out of committee.
Nevertheless, developing alternatives to animal testing has led L’Oreal USA, a subsidiary of the world’s largest cosmetics company, to collaborate with San Diego-based Organovo and its 3D bioprinting technology.
Under their partnership, L’Oreal and Organovo plan to develop 3D-printed skin tissue to better evaluate beauty product safety and performance. Their first goal is to develop artificially grown skin tissue that shares certain histological and biochemical characteristics with healthy native skin, Organovo CEO Keith Murphy said recently.
“L’Oreal has a long history of being innovative in this space,” Murphy told me. For example, the French cosmetics giant acquired another French concern, SkinEthic, in 2006 to enhance its tissue engineering capabilities and develop more accurate testing capabilities for a range of skin care products, especially UV sunscreens. Understanding their cream products is still an area of high interest for L’Oreal, Murphy said.
This partnership marks the first application of Organovo’s technology in the beauty industry. It follows other examples of cell technology companies teaming up with consumer products businesses, such as Madison, WI-based Cellular Dynamics International’s agreement with Nestle, which is using brain and liver cells manufactured by Cellular Dynamics to conduct nutritional research.
“Our partnership will not only bring about new advanced in vitro methods for evaluating product safety and performance, but the potential for where this new field of technology and research can take us is boundless,” said Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oreal’s technology incubator, in a recently released statement.
Last year, Organovo demonstrated that 3D-printed samples of human liver tissue could be used in pre-clinical drug testing to screen the toxic effects of prospective drug compounds. The company also has developed 3D-printed kidney tissue for similar drug-screening programs.
In April, Organovo disclosed that it also had signed a multi-year partnership with Merck involving the use of its 3D-printed liver tissue and bioprinting system.
[Corrected to show Organovo’s burn rate, instead of annual revenue.] Organovo has grown to about 75 employees and recently disclosed net cash utilization of $21.1 million in fiscal 2015, and expects to ramp up to about $25 million. Organovo has not disclosed forward-looking revenue. At the company’s current spending rate, Murphy said Organovo has more than two years’ worth of cash on hand.