Bioprinting for Burns and Cancer on the Horizon for CTI Biotech


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French startup CTI Biotech has hit two important milestones on the road to creating functional bioprinted human tissues. In November 2021, the company announced the development of an innovative cold plasma wound healing treatment for severely infected skin burns and the creation of bioprinted human colorectal cancer models for drug screening. This represents a new phase in the company’s cycle of collaborations to produce bioengineered tissue using human cells.

Founded in Lyon in 2009, CTI Biotech has pioneered the production of functional human tissue using bioprinting for regenerative medicine, pharmaceutical developments, and the dermal cosmetic industry. With a strong, decades-old basis on cancer research, founders Nico Forraz and Colin McGuckin have perfected a bioprinting technique to develop microtumors, which are human biological models of real tumors, hoping the technology and tissue models will improve drug development platforms and predictive medicine.

3D bioprinting

CTI Biotech’s 3D bioprinting technology. Image courtesy of CTI Biotech.

To develop a treatment for burn wounds, CTI Biotech teamed up with the French Army’s Biomedical Research Insitute, the École Polytechnique, and Institut Pasteur. Together they form the Novoplasm consortium and claim to be the first group worldwide to come up with cold plasma technology to treat infected burns and wound healing of skin grafts.

Their immunized human skin–part of the company’s CTISkin human skin models–is described as a non-invasive, painless, and non-thermal cold plasma technology that consists of energizing a gas with an electric current causing the formation of nitrogen and reactive oxygen species with pro-healing, reparative, and bactericidal properties (beneficial for burn victims with antibiotic-resistant bacteria). Even more so, throughout their research, the team has proven that cold plasma technology also promotes the formation of new blood vessels and mobilizes the immune cells present in the skin wound.

Burns are a major global public health problem accounting for an estimated 180,000 deaths annually, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Statistically, most of these injuries occur in low- and middle-income countries, and almost two-thirds occur in the WHO African and South-East Asia regions. Still, burns are one of the leading causes of disability. The last known data from 2004 estimates that nearly 11 million people worldwide are burned severely enough to require medical attention every year.

With CTI Biotech and its partners pioneering a new model for treating burns, they can further prove that advances in bioprinting could hold the key to a better future for patients. To create this next-generation therapeutic treatment, the Novoplasm research consortium has received funding from the Specific Support for Research and Innovation in Defense (ASTRID) program, conducted in partnership with the French National Research Agency (ANR). Following the project’s presentation at the Defense Innovation Forum (FID) in late November 2021, the final medical device is expected to become suitable for use either in a hospital setting or in a specialized burn treatment center or could even help injured soldiers in battle.

3D bioprinted colorectal cancer models in 24 well plate

3D bioprinted colorectal cancer models in 24 well plates. Image courtesy of CTI Biotech.

On another front, CTI Biotech continues to focus resources on disease modeling for drug screening, considered one of the firm’s strong points since its inception in 2009. This time, it teamed up with the Medical University of Plovdiv and the University Multi-Profile Hospital for Active Treatment (UMHAT)-Eurohospital in Bulgaria to establish a  robust, cost-effective, and reproducible 3D bioprinting platform for creating human colorectal cancer disease models and chemotherapeutic screening.

Through bioprinting of “glandular-like” colon cancer tumors, the team could reproducibly identify biomarkers involved in colorectal cancer and model resistance to chemotherapeutics. The study’s findings were published in the Frontiers journal and demonstrate that by using this new technology, called CTIBioTumour, the time required for the preclinical evaluation phase is reduced from six years to two or three years.

Additionally, the new model reduces drug development costs by 20%, representing up to €520 million ($589 million) in savings per drug developed. It also helps achieve a better assessment of the safety and efficacy of drug candidates and supports personalized medicine platforms that can better predict a patient’s response to different cancer therapies.

“Advancement of cancer therapies requires new human models for drug testing. Our 3D models provide, for the first time, accurate long-term testing strategies to help patients,” said McGuckin, who is also president and Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) at CTI Biotech. “Regenerative medicine is the future of healthcare. At CTI Biotech we advance these models to help personalized medicine and to support hospitals in the short term, not just the future.”

Traditionally, the development of a single drug takes an average of 15 years and costs nearly €2.6 billion ($2.9 billion) to reach a commercialization stage. Moreover, only 2% of the molecules tested in the preclinical phase reach the clinical level. Thanks to innovative new collaborations like these, CTI Biotech aims to reduce both the cost and time of drug development by automating the development and production process of 3D bioprinted human cancer models.

Since these bioprinted models represent the patient’s tumors, they are powerful tools for obtaining robust and transferable results to humans in the testing of drug candidates. In addition, they can eventually be used to determine the most effective therapy for each patient in a personalized medical approach.

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