Organovo Holdings Inc Founder: We May Not Print Organs, but That Won't Matter

Dr. Gabor Forgacs says people don't fully understand what Organovo Holdings Inc really is.

Brian Stoffel
Brian Stoffel
Apr 9, 2014 at 2:30PM
Health Care

Imagine the ability to create a fully functioning human organ using a 3-D bioprinter.

Even though it's not a key piece of the technology Organovo Holdings Inc (NASDAQ:ONVO) is counting on for revenue any time soon, it's still how many investors -- myself included -- kick off an introduction to Organovo's long-term aspirations.

Source: Organovo. 

Recently, however, some short-sellers have begun circulating news that Organovo's scientific founder, Dr. Gabor Forgacs of the University of Missouri Columbia, has made it clear he doesn't think the days of printing organs will ever come.

That news was confirmed earlier this week, when Forgacs penned a letter with Organovo CEO Keith Murphy stating: "Will we be able to bioprint copies of the organs we carry in our body? Perhaps not due to a number of factors in addition to the technology hurdles." 

Guess what? It shouldn't matter at all
Of course, with an admission like that, it's easy to see why investors in the company might feel like its time to bail on its stock. But a careful read of the rest of the letter shows why any short thesis that revolves around Forgacs' belief or involvement in the company is patently false.

Forgacs follows up the quote above by clearly stating (emphasis added): "I believe that Organovo's technology can eventually be used to build complex organ structures from the patient's own cells, which function as well as if not better than the original ones, even if differing in the details." 

In other words: Everyone needs to take a deep breath and put this all in context. Forgacs makes it clear he still "actively participate[s]" in Organovo's work, and that he "remain[s] one of the company's largest shareholders."

For those who do believe in the long-term prospects for Organovo, the matter of whether or not bioprinted organs are on the horizon is just noise that it'd be better to ignore. It would be far more productive to spend time focusing on the performance of the company's 3-D liver assays, which are set to become available sometime before or by December 2014.

As it is, drug companies spend billions of dollars on developing drugs every year that will eventually fail in clinical trials due to toxicities.  Liver toxicities are foremost among the culprits.  

While there are other liver products on the market for testing now, Organovo says that no one can offer the types of samples it has because Organovo's so closely mimic native cell behavior, and because those cells can now last for over 40 days, allowing a broad range of toxicities enough time to develop.

If these liver assays turn out to be as helpful as the company thinks they can be--and Organovo continues to develop other tissues with these advantages--investors will soon forget about the promise of bioprinted organs, and instead focus on the real work the technology can accomplish today.

But still, tread carefully
Even though I myself am a shareholder, it's always worth noting that this is a very risky stock. Organovo has never in its history brought in any significant amount of revenue from product sales. Additionally, it is valued today at roughly $600 million -- a ridiculously high number given traditional metrics.

That's why shares of the company account for less than 1% of my overall holdings, and will continue to until it can prove that its products really can revolutionize how drug companies go about testing their new treatments.