AMS Spring 2023

Revisiting 3DPrint.com’s Bioprinting Zone: An Evolving Startup Landscape and World Map

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Ever since 3DPrint.com created the Bioprinting Zone and published the first world map of bioprinting companies in June 2019, things have changed a bit. Not only did many businesses succumb to the economic shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, but several others were also acquired by bigger companies, changed their names, and even moved to another country. So, with quite a few changes in the bioprinting realm, it might be a good time to revisit our map and the industry’s evolution.

Bioprinting is very much tied to the groundbreaking research done by academia, institutions, and the medical community. Only a handful of firms began commercializing bioprinting technology ten years ago. Pioneering the segment was Organovo, a company created in 2007 that was on the cusp of commercializing tissue patches for the treatment of liver disease and is now struggling to survive.

Around that same time, other businesses emerged, like Switzerland-based regenHU, which unveiled new products until 2020 but ran into several problems keeping afloat. Other front runners such as DigiLab and Cellink have changed their names to Cellular Life Sciences and BICO (STO: BICO), respectively, but managed to remain at the forefront of the private bioprinting industry, creating some of the most sought after machines in the market.

Actually, BICO has become a powerhouse. After rebranding in 2021, net sales grew by more than 600%, driven by a spree of mergers and acquisitions (M&As) as well as its own organic growth. The strategy to acquire complementing technologies to cover the entire bioprinting workflow began in 2018, when BICO took over the German provider of automated liquid handling instruments, Dispendix. Following that first move, the company acquired 12 other startups, including Allegro 3D.

But even though business seems flawless at BICO, news of an internal rift that started after the departure of one of the company’s co-founders and Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Gusten Danielsson, has agitated the waters a bit. In late April 2022, Danielsson, responsible for strategizing BICO’s economic direction, said CEO Erik Gatenholm was “no longer the right leader for the company, even if he remains a controlling shareholder.” The internal battle is not over yet, but that hasn’t seemed to stop the company from moving forward with its strategy.

Left to right: Sanjay Gupta, Mark Hodosh, Martine Rothblatt and Chuck Hull.

Sanjay Gupta holding the 3D printed lung scaffold. Left to right: Sanjay Gupta, Mark Hodosh, Martine Rothblatt and Chuck Hull. Image courtesy of 3D Systems.

One of the most strategic moves in the industry came from 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD). Although the company’s strong suit is its broad portfolio of industrial additive manufacturing solutions for plastic and metal parts, 3D Systems has an established reputation in the medical field. But now, it is diving further into the bioprinting space.

Over the last years, a staggering demand for bioprinting and regenerative medicine led AM pioneer and 3D Systems co-founder Chuck Hull to establish a bioprinting unit within the company. Currently serving as Chief Technology Officer for the company, the 81-year-old inventor and his team have made strides in the last two years. Following a successful collaboration with biotech firm United Therapeutics Corporation (NASDAQ: UTHR) and Lung Biotechnology PBC, its organ manufacturing subsidiary that began in 2017, the companies extended their partnership. In June 2022, they even showcased a fully printed human lung scaffold at the CNN-sponsored Life Itself conference. This exciting milestone represents one of the most complex objects ever printed and what Hull describes as “the culmination of our efforts with United Therapeutics.” As part of their collaboration, the duo is already working on developing two other organs, kidneys and livers.

Reassessing our bioprinting world map

As part of our original research of bioprinting companies, we amassed a database that encompassed a spectrum of different bioprinting businesses in a wide range of countries. In 2019, we reported that the U.S. was the leading force, with 39% of the companies headquartered in 18 states. Today, the country is still the leader in the bioprinting industry, with 40% of the companies based in 16 states. In addition, Canada is home to three large bioprinting companies, making North America the leading region for emerging bioprinting companies.

The European continent follows with 38% of the companies (in 2019, that number was 35%), followed by Asia with 17% (a number that remains stable from 2019), Latin America with a mere three companies, and Australia (representing Oceania) with just one. Countries like the U.K., Germany, and France continue to absorb most of the business, just like in 2019. Similarly, China remains the region’s driving force in Asia with four companies, except that now, India, Iran, and Israel also have their startups working on bioprinting hardware, software, and materials.

A few countries have lost many bioprinting companies since 2019; namely, Italy, Australia, and Ireland, each witnessing at least two startups closing. For example, both Ourobotics and Vornia Biomaterials shut down in Ireland, leaving the scene without any bioprinting companies. Similarly, in Italy, we couldn’t find one bioprinting business, even though it used to have three. Today Australia, one of the most innovative countries behind bioprinting research (mostly at universities and hospitals), only has one bioprinting startup, Inventia Life Sciences.

No matter how much the landscape changes for the bioprinting industry, we continue to see many of its players thrive and new ones emerge. While still quite a niche sector, it is a reckoning force that can lead to incredible breakthroughs. Although the ultimate goal of bioprinting organs for human transplant is still a long way away (experts estimate between 15 and 20 years before clinical trials even see the light of day), the fact that we continue to witness bioprinting companies laying the groundwork for what is to come is fascinating. Our bioprinting world map may have changed in the last three years, but we expect it to change even more as the industry moves from the niche to the masses in the coming decades.

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