German pharmaceutical multinational Bayer has signed a collaboration agreement with Tel Aviv University’s technology transfer company Ramot to develop and test a drug platform using human heart tissues 3D-printed in the Laboratory for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine headed by Professor Tal Dvir, the two parties announced on Sunday.
Last year, Professor Dvir unveiled that he and his team produced a live, miniature heart in a revolutionary new 3D printing process that combines human tissue taken from a patient. The scientists have been working on processes and technologies that would make it possible to develop any kind of tissue implant from one small fatty tissue biopsy, paving the way for personalized organs and tissues. The scientists estimate that this could take at least another decade but it could eventually mean eliminating the need for organ donations and the risk of transplant rejection.
In the meantime, the tech could be a boon for drug screening and testing.
As part of the agreement, Dvir’s lab and Bayer will aim to test new cardiology medication for toxicity and efficacy using printed whole human hearts over the next few years.
The testing on heart tissues “could enable faster, cheaper and more efficient screening than Petri dishes,” the parties said, since drug candidates go through several phases of screening including on human tissue cultures and then on lab animals, before eventually reaching pharmacies.
“In a Petri dish, all the cells line up in 2D, and it’s only one type of cell,” Professor Dvir said in a university statement. “In contrast, our engineered tissues are 3D-printed, and therefore better resembles real heart tissues. Our printed tissues contain cardiac muscle, blood vessels and the extracellular matrix which connects the different cells biochemically, mechanically and electrically.
“Moving away from Petri dishes to 3D printed tissues could significantly improve drug tests, saving precious time and money with the hope of producing safer and more effective medication,” he explained.
The goal is to offer Bayer the ability to conduct pre-clinical trials on complete printed organs, the Israeli scientist indicated. “Our agreement is just the beginning. Our end goal is to engineer whole human hearts, including all the different chambers, valves, arteries and veins – the best analogue of this complex organ – for an even better toxicological screening process,” he said.
Ramot CEO Keren Primor Cohen said: “Prof. Dvir’s platform groundbreaking innovation is very promising. We believe that this collaboration with Bayer will support the evaluation and development of new drugs and is a step in building long-term relations with Bayer that we hope will benefit both partners and ultimately patients.”
To further develop the application, Ramot said it licensed the technology to a spin-off company called Matricelf, which focuses on engineering personalized spinal cord implants to treat paralyzed patients. The company recently secured a large investment, allowing it to reach clinical settings in the near future.
“We are excited to start this new collaboration with Tel Aviv University, which will address a new area of early assessment of safety and tolerability of drug candidates,” said Eckhard von Keutz, Head of Translational Sciences at Bayer.
“We already have a global network of partners and this new project will enable Bayer to expand its open innovation activities to Israel, which provides a dynamic ecosystem for innovation in biotech and medical research,” added von Keutz.