By now, many investors have heard of 3-D printing and its potential to disrupt several entrenched industries. Not only can these machines speed up the prototyping process exponentially, but some believe that there will be a 3-D printer in every household within a few decades.
But there's a much smaller segment of 3-D printing that operates under the radar of many investors: 3-D bioprinting. Although printing of organs remains the dream of many speculators, the immediate future of the technology and its largest publicly traded company -- Organovo Holdings, Inc. (NYSEMKT: ONVO ) -- is squarely focused on the printing of human tissues for use in drug testing.
In its full life as a corporate entity, Organovo has brought in almost no revenue from the actual sale of products, relying instead on grants, collaborations, and funding from the public markets to finance operations. That, however, may come to an end by December. The company has shown the ability to print 3-D liver cells that mimic native cells more accurately than 2-D versions, and can remain functional for well over one month.
The idea is that pharmaceutical companies could test for liver toxicities before entering Food and Drug Administration trials. By doing so, the drug companies can save billions of dollars by either killing or adjusting the composition of their drugs before going through the costly trials.
The company's upbeat outlook
Although shares of Organovo -- a highly volatile stock -- had lost almost half of their value from 2014 highs before today, the company has issued a number of upbeat updates. First, it let investors know that the liver assays were being made available to key opinion leaders ahead of schedule and that the liver assays would be available for sale earlier than expected.
Then just today, it announced that because of customer interest and time-sensitive projects, Organovo was signing up customers for limited, pre-release availability of its liver assays. According to CEO Keith Murphy, "Organovo has received interest in advance of our planned launch from top 15 pharma company customers, small to midsize pharma companies, biotechnology companies, and private venture capital backed pharmaceutical development firms."
Instead of issuing the liver assays to customers as the company is expected to do after a full release, these customers will contract with Organovo for toxicity tests to be conducted within Organovo's own facilities.
What this means for customers
One of the biggest arguments against owning shares of Organovo is that there are already plenty of companies -- both publicly traded and private -- that provide human tissues for the medical field. But Organovo has said all along that what it is providing -- in 3-D tissues that have a shelf life of over a month and closely mimic native tissues -- is fundamentally different from what's on the market right now.
If demand is as strong as this new information would lead some to believe, it could be great news for Organovo investors. As it is now, it's still too early to tell how successful the company's products will be on the market, but in the absence of any other news, the outlook is upbeat.
As a shareholder myself, I still plan on waiting until further results and revenue information come in before purchasing more shares.
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