A personal touch: the role of bioprinting in drug discovery

Tomi Kalpio

DDW Editor, Reece Armstrong, sits down with Brinter CEO Tomi Kalpio to learn about the company’s approach to bioprinting and how it can be used throughout drug discovery. 

Brinter is a provider of 3D bioprinting solutions based in Turku, Finland and the US. The company has developed modular technology that can print multi-material and highly complex tissue structures in 3D, providing all the basic features needed for bioprinting. The company hopes that through its technology, academics, life science industries and pharma industries can test and develop more personalised treatments for intricate tissue engineering and cell therapy, such as repairing damaged tissue, replacing lost biological functions, localised therapeutic solutions and complex drug formulations. 

The company envisions that its bioprinting technologies will help replicate complex disease models with subjects’ own cell lines to be cultured and tested for individual treatment which it states are not currently possible with conventional bioprinting and organ-on-a-chip technologies. 

RA: How can bioprinting be used to shorten drug discovery timelines? 

TK: Brinter aims to help save more lives and to improve the quality of life through more personalised treatments. For example, to aid researchers and clinicians, we have developed tools such as the droplet tool to dispense cells or the digi triaxial version which can print up to three different cell incorporated biomaterials with different manipulations according to the tissue. This helps researchers to print, in an automated manner, 3D cancerous cells and track how they communicate with each other, see the toxicity, drug efficacy, etc. This allows researchers to identify the best individual drugs to treat the disease. 

Conventional drug discovery is a cumbersome process, as there are lots of stages to be tested with
various populations, from cells to humans and multiple approvals for various agencies. It is made as a one-size-fits-all approach, based on huge trials. This is where personalised drug screening and personalised treatment comes in because we can map pharmacogenetics, toxicity and drug metabolism of the active pharmaceutical ingredient for the particular individual. 

Using bioprinted tissue models based on human cells, it can improve the drug discovery process by eliminating unsafe drug candidates at an earlier stage, thus speeding up the translation of new drugs into clinics, also eliminating the need for animal models in discovery and testing, with a significant reduction in preclinical trial cost. 

RA: What are the current applications for bioprinting and where does it hold the most promise in terms of pharmaceutical research? 

TK: Its current applications range from printing bioelectronics to printing veins, personalised drugs, and more. The most promise in the immediate future is in personalised medicine. The complex personalised formulations can be produced accordingly. This precision printing in 3D requires automation to make it accurate enough. In essence, manufacturing complex drugs with controlled drug delivery or release profile enhances the therapy that is based on the patient’s individual data. 

The automation of making intricate tissue models both for drug testing and also the implantation of these bioprinted tissues with added functionality like immunosuppressant release, anti-bacterial and fungal release until the tissue have integrated with native tissue, will be the next big thing. There has already been groundwork done in academia to develop organs- on-a-chip for drug testing, and bioprinted organs-on-a-chip will bring even better understanding on multiple levels. 

RA: Could you expand on the possibilities for bioprinting to be used within personalised medicine? 

TK: Bioprinting can help biotech and pharma tech people collaborate and provide data to automation specialists, who create a process to run the tasks precisely, accurately, faster, in order of 100,000x compared to current methodology. For the therapy side, organ manufacturing for implantation (human spare parts), drug formulation (personalised medicine) becomes based on personalised data. For the testing or diagnosing side, it’ll enable complex disease models, individual drug library testing, etc. 

RA: More so, as an out- of-the-box platform, do you envision the type of technology Brinter provides to be used within healthcare settings for things like localised tissue manufacturing? 

TK: Yes, we can through the multi-material capabilities of our concept. Replacing the 2D and 3D culturing of stem cells with bioprinting allows researchers tofabricate simplified homocellular tissue models for basic research or to produce more complex 3D scaffolds with controlled spatial heterogeneity of physical properties, cellular composition, and ECM/biomolecule organisation. 

RA: What are the cost benefits of using bioprinting for something like tissue models compared to native models? 

TK: Native models are not personalised as those are cells from some other source, not the patient we treat. The market is growing strongly as accelerated technological, material, and methodological developments expand the potential applications for 3D bioprinting. However, many institutions are unable to acquire 3D printing technology due to its price. 

RA: How regulated is bioprinting and is there more work needed with regulators to make it more accessible? 

TK: There is still groundwork to be done, and knowledge sharing and regulatory changes to make so regulations are uniform and simple enough. This is so that companies, such as Brinter, don’t face an endless swamp of regulations that are not compatible and logical. Simpler regulation helps end-users, like pharmacies and hospitals, have peace of mind while providing their customers with effective bioprinted medicines. The same need for simplicity and compatibility of regulations applies also to drug discovery using actual patient cells. The automation of cell culture and biology is easier compared to making printed drug formulations as there are no organisations to regulate the manufacturing process. 

RA: In what ways can bioprinting offer a more sustainable option to the pharmaceutical industry? 

TK: Localised production means less transporting and less waste material in most cases. Localised tissue manufacturing is possible now that evolving bioprinting technologies are able to extrude multiple cell types within the same print job. It’s just a matter of designing hardware properly so that it could be used in a clinical setting without materials, tools, or constructs getting contaminated in the process.

Volume 23 – Issue 4, Fall 2022


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