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There's no question that 3D bio printing has great potential. Some of the more exciting applications of this technology is the printing of artificial organs. Such a feat would have a profound impact on the availability of organs for transplant patients. However, the realization of this is years away.
Meanwhile, the bio printing of tissue is a reality. An example of this is Organovo's recent delivery of 3D printed liver tissue to an outside laboratory. One industry that stands to benefit from 3D bio printing of tissue is pharmaceuticals.
Drug research has relied on the use of 2D cell cultures to do drug screening. However, living tissue exists in 3D environments and 3D interactions cannot be modeled with 2D cell cultures. 3D printed tissue remain viable for over 40 days while 2D cultures last for 48 hours. This means longer term drug effects on human tissue can be studied.
Because results based on 2D cell cultures can be misleading, drug testing is a long and expensive process. The new drugs can take billions of dollars and over a decade to develop. This fact is key to 3D printing opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry and is why Organovo is developing and selling 3D printed tissue.
According to forbes.com
"The reality is that the pharmaceutical business is in the grip of rising failure rates and rising costs. We can all only hope that new technologies and a better understanding of biology will turn things around."
"If a drug company could promise to invent new medicines for $55 million a pop, its stock price would soar like apple’s."
They also state that the average drug developed by major pharmaceutical companies can cost between 4 and 11 billion dollars to develop. One large contributor to these staggering costs is the failure rate of new drugs after big money has already been invested.
The superiority of 3D printed human tissue over 2D human cell cultures will reduce the failure rate of new drugs. It is not yet clear how much this reduction will be, but it is a big step in the right direction. The pharmaceutical industry stands to benefit in a big way from 3D bio printing and their demand for it is clear.
Despite the billions of dollars invested, the number of new drugs successfully developed each year has been in the low twenties over the last decade. The pharmaceutical industry has a desperate need for new technologies such as 3D bio printing to increase the production and lower the cost of new drugs. The gigantic cost of current drug research is the reason why many drug companies are not interested in developing new antibiotics to combat the rise of drug resistant pathogens that threaten to lower average life expectancies.