From corporate giants such as L’Oreal and BASF to fresh startups, the emerging 3D bioprinting industry is predicted to be valued at more than 1,3 billion USD in just three years time. Some of the brightest minds in BioTech that have been exploring how to prolong the lifespan of mankind will come together at CUBE Tech Fair on May 15th and 16th in Berlin. Among them are Dr. Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist based in Mountain View,Onno Faber, who shared his DNA data with 150 coders to find a cure for his neurofibromatosis type 2-or Danny Cabrera, the founder of BioBots, a company in 3D Bioprinting. We talked to Danny Cabrera who will share the stage on May 15th with Dr. Nadine Hachach-Haram, Surgeon and co-founder of Proximie, about the correlation between academics and innovations in 3D bioprinting; business models in the bioprinting industry; and how technological developments in biology will change the human future.
What are your predictions for the development of 3D bioprinting in the next five to ten years? Does it have the potential to replace organ donation?
Danny: Scientists, primarily academics and the other few industry players, are using 3D bioprinters to explore how cells and the three-dimensional space come together by basically depositing different kinds of cells next to each other and next to different kinds of biocompatible materials. Hence, bioprinters are being used in those developments and are not the only tool that’s being used for biofabrication of useful implants. It is still being explored through bioprinters how cells interact, how they change in three-dimensional space, and how that is different from cells growing normally in a petri dish. This is happening across every tissue type from skin to lungs, liver, kidney, heart, or even the brain. However, it’s a long way between modeling the interactions of one or two cells in a small piece of tissue to having a fully functioning organ that’s inside of a human body. The field is going to be moving into incorporating not only the other tools and other technologies but also really understanding the biology and developing strategies that we cannot even conceive at the present time, because the science is so new.
It is still being explored through bioprinters how cells interact, how they change in three-dimensional space, and how that is different from cells growing normally in a petri dish.
What are the major challenges business-wise facing this emerging industry?
Danny: There are three different kinds of business models that are emerging in this space. Primarily, there are companies that are developing the full stack of end-to-end solutions. For instance, companies like Organovo, who have their own bioprinting platforms. They have the in-house technology and use it to develop proprietary new products and solutions. Since this space is new and experimental, it has created problems for such companies, because when they went public, the whole world was expecting bioprinted livers in the span of the next 5–10 years Instead, what we’ve gotten is little small pieces of livers that are being used to test new drugs.
Some of the brightest minds in BioTech that have been exploring how to prolong the lifespan of mankind will come together at CUBE Tech Fair on May 15th and 16th in Berlin.
The second business model is where companies are working on building the tools, bioprinters and selling them to scientists. These companies are like Alevi which was formerly called BioBots and is founded by me. Other players in this space are companies like Excelink and Ether. These are not typically science companies but are technology companies that are building robotics and biomaterial products that they sell directly to the scientist. The challenge with this model is getting market share and trying to create a network effect and keep competitors out. A new company could sprout up and be building bioprinters and capture your market share away from you. These companies are really accelerating research, because they democratize the tools to involve different scientists.
The third and the most recent business model is companies who aren’t developing their own proprietary bioprinting solutions but are using off-the-shelf printers (what we are building at Alevi) to develop novel products in the vein of products for drug screenings or even towards implantation. The business challenge for these companies remains to be seen. However, this is really exciting because, for the first time, a company has created something like a computer and another company has bought that computer and is starting to develop applications on top of it.
How do you think startups can successfully penetrate the industry and collaborate with larger companies while keeping the integrity and sustainable business models?
Danny: The models in the bioprinting industry at present are based on incentivized centralization of almost everything from data, equipment, people to knowledge. So when you’re coming into a company like L’Oreal and trying to work with a more decentralized model the answer is pretty much ‘no’. You need to work under their centralized rules. Does that mean that the industry is not collaborative? Absolutely not. There is a lot of collaboration that happens in the bioprinting industry, especially in the academic domain. For better or for worse, this industry still relies heavily on academics and they’re the ones who are providing the insights that are solving the big problems in three-dimensional biofabrication. It’ll be interesting to see how that changes as the industry matures and as the technology and scientific development moves from academia into industry.
You start going from a world where scientists are doing things by hand to one where they’re operating their entire labs from the comfort of their computer or iPad screens.
How do you envision the future of humanity — without any limitations of what’s currently possible?
Danny: We will see a lot more advancement in the medical world — that’s where most development in biology is happening. I don’t want to make predictions about the number of diseases that are going to be eradicated, but what I can expect to see is the lifespan of humans to continue to increase. Outside of the human health world, there will be developments transcribing over into other challenges that we have. For instance, how do we use biology to solve issues like climate change? How do we begin to engineer organisms within those ecosystems to be more robust, to survive in an ever-changing climate? How do we use them to prevent disasters so that the crops we grow are resistant to droughts and fires? That’s what biology really offers us in this ever-changing world. If you combine that with the concept of democratized or decentralized Internet, then you start having a place where we as humans have a lot more power in our lives.
When do you think we’ll be able to print the first organ and successfully implant it?
Danny: It is going to be a while before we print three dimensional fully functioning organs. It’s not because we don’t have the technology to do so, it’s because the biology is extraordinarily complex and our understanding of biology is still in its very early days. For instance, we still don’t know how genes communicate with one another in a chromosome. It’s not just going to be one tool; it’s not just going to be bioprinters, or even just the scientists that uncover a bunch of different components, but together we’ll unlock the kind of advancement that you’re talking about.
It is going to be a while before we print three dimensional fully functioning organs.
Biology labs have been built to operate on two dimensional tissues and when you introduce a bioprinter into a lab, you’ve given the lab the ability to start fabricating things in three dimensions. With this, other things become non-functional. For instance, you can’t use a microscope if you’ve got a three dimensional stack of tissue. This opens door for new tools to begin making their way into the labs and interface with these new tissues that you’re building. What’s exciting is that as those tools get built, these are brand new pieces of equipment that didn’t exist before, creating a great interface between all of these different pieces of equipment so that all the transfer happens automatically — that’s when we really start changing the pace of development in the lab. You start going from a world where scientists are doing things by hand to one where they’re operating their entire labs from the comfort of their computer or iPad screens. Where all they have to do is type a few lines of code and their entire experiment is run from start to finish — they don’t have to touch anything. This increases the rate of development in biological discoveries. This will give a huge increase in data and that’s what’s exciting about the bioprinting revolution.
Meet Danny Cabrera on the CUBE Tech FairMain Stage onMay 15th at 12:20pm. If you do not have a ticket, use the code “CTFVIP2018“ toget your VIP Pass for a first row seat!