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3D-Bioprinting: ‘Next Big Innovation’ in Healthcare

June, 2017

Alok Medikepura Anil, Co- Founder & COO, Next Big Innovation Labs, on how 3D-Bioprinting can disrupt the multi-billion dollar drug development market 

More than 80% of Indians are NOT insured and pay for healthcare from their personal savings or through loans.

Price of critical lifesaving medicines is skyrocketing and outside the financial reach of most Indians who suffer from chronic diseases.

Many potential lifesaving drugs such as those for treating cancer, are still stuck in the slow regulatory drug development cycle and are nowhere close to market launch.

These questions got us thinking and we decided to tackle them at Next Big Innovation Labs using a unique approach of 3D-Bioprinting.

3D-printing technology has been around for the past three decades but the applications of this additive manufacturing technology has recently widened to impact a lot of fields beyond engineering product manufacturing. Fast evolving material science research, expired Intellectual Property tenure (for novel 3D-printing techniques) from the early 90s and the onset of the fourth industrial revolution – with emphasis on machine over man for the various mundane tasks we perform on a day to day basis, have all contributed to the rise of the global 3D-printing industry.

At Next Big Innovation Labs, we are working at the crossroads of engineering and biotechnology. Using the power of 3D-printing to customise and print to accuracy, and the strength of biotechnology to modify the level of cell functionality, Next Big Innovation Labs is focused on solving a critical financial problem affecting most Indians today – sky high costs of critical lifesaving drugs.

Novel drug development typically takes 10 -12 years and is a highly regulated process. Costs incurred to bring a successful drug to market are anywhere between USD 2 - 2.5 billion. Pharma companies also incur huge losses for failed R&D, and from unsuccessful drug development projects that fail to see the light of day. Successful drugs in the market that cost a few dollars to manufacture are sold at 100x cost price to recover the rising R&D costs and fund future projects while keeping the pharma business profitable.

We wanted to disrupt this market and our 3D-bioprinted products are being developed with the intention to minimize drug development time by accelerating progress in the pre-clinical stage. Our solution will also help pharma R&D companies to detect their failures faster and cheaper, when experimenting with novel drugs that have high chances of having a flawed molecule composition or high toxicity effect on body organs.

Then how do we plan to tackle this Billion Dollar Drug Development market via our 3D-Bioprinted tissue assays? The current gold standards for testing efficacy and toxicity of drug molecules in the lab are with 2D cell cultures. 3D tissue assays are proven to be a viable and more effective alternative to measuring drug efficacy and toxicity in the pre-clinical trials stage, than conventional 2D cell cultures. Traditionally, the first real test for a drug during the development stage is the results obtained from animal trials. We plan to bring a viable and cost effective testing method, such as custom 3D-printed tissue assays with various organ specific cell lines, straight to the labs of Pharma R&D companies. Companies will thus have better control over drug efficacy and toxicity results in the initial years of drug development before reaching the animal testing phase. Most of their failures in toxicity drug tests are highlighted at the animal testing stage and our solution will help them control losses, by helping them to identify flawed drug molecule compositions before thousands of man-hours and hundreds of millions of dollars are wasted in pre-animal testing R&D stage.

An ethical issue we are trying to address is that of animal testing. There are current bans on animal testing in many countries and the cosmetic industry is the most affected. Animal tests continue to happen illegally due to the absence of viable testing alternatives for the industry. We are in the process of developing our inhouse 3D-Bioinks and aim to soon be able to replicate the human skin layers and print 3D skin tissue assays. This could potentially be the unanimous choice to effectively test in labs, the short term and long term effects of cosmetic and dermatology products on the human skin and importantly, it will be free of animal cruelty.

Today, we are successful in the initial validation trials with a leading R&D lab, for our 3D-Bioprinted products developed using our inhouse 3D-Bioprinter. We are ready to bring quality R&D services in the field of 3D-Bioprinting to the world, developed right here - in India!

The opinions expressed in the article are the author’s own.