San Diego-based Organovo (NASDAQ: ONVO) said today it plans to use its 3D bio-printing technology to produce living human liver tissue “patches” that can be transplanted in patients with fatal liver disease.
The idea is to help improve the function of failing livers, a stopgap measure that could extend the lives of patients on the U.S. liver transplant waiting list.
Organovo unveiled its plans to develop “therapeutic” tissue after showing in preclinical animal studies that bio-printed liver patches successfully grafted, formed blood vessels, and functioned normally, according to a statement today. The transplanted liver tissue even produced liver-specific proteins and metabolic enzymes.
Organovo said the experimental technology’s path to human therapy would begin with a formal, preclinical development program focused on liver disease. Bio-printing liver tissue has moved ahead the fastest, but Organovo said it also is pursuing preclinical “proof of concept” studies in other areas.
The move represents a step toward a long-term goal that led to the formation of Organovo in 2007—of developing technology capable of bio-printing whole livers, kidneys, and other vital organs. Such capabilities, though, remain years and perhaps even decades away.
In the meantime, Organovo has built a business that uses its bio-printing technology to create 3D samples of human liver tissue (the ochre-colored stuff in the cell culture tray in top photo) for use in testing the toxicity of pre-clinical drug candidates. The company currently works with seven global pharmaceutical giants, and last month announced plans to offer similar contract research services for testing the toxicity of pre-clinical drug candidates on the kidneys.
For its drug-testing business, Organovo makes small dollops of liver tissue that are only about a quarter-inch in diameter. The goal now is to make a patch of liver tissue that is many times larger—perhaps as big as a dollar bill—that could potentially benefit patients awaiting transplantation.
In a statement today, Organovo said there are currently about 17,000 patients on the U.S. liver transplant waiting list. But only about 6,000 liver transplants are performed each year. Organovo said it is initially targeting two specific sets of patients: those with “acute-on-chronic liver failure,” an orphan disease characterized by the rapid deterioration of liver function that affects roughly 150,000 U.S. patients annually; and children with metabolic liver diseases. These initial areas encompass a $3 billion market opportunity, the company said.
Organovo CEO Keith Murphy was unavailable to discuss the company’s initiative yesterday, but he is scheduled to present an overview of the company’s efforts later today at the 2016 Cell & Gene Meeting on the Mesa. The conference is making a webcast of his presentation available here.