Pharma giant Bayer to test new drugs on researchers’ 3D-printed heart tissue

German multinational to collaborate with Tel Aviv University’s Prof. Tal Dvir, who unveiled the world’s first 3D-printed heart and vessels, to speed up drug validation

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Professor Tal Dvir presents a 3D print of a heart with human tissue at Tel Aviv University on April 15, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Professor Tal Dvir presents a 3D print of a heart with human tissue at Tel Aviv University on April 15, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Bayer AG, the German pharma giant, has signed a collaboration agreement to test out new drugs on human heart tissue 3D-printed by researchers at Tel Aviv University.

Ramot, the technology transfer arm of the university, said Sunday that researchers working in the lab of Prof. Tal Dvir will work with Bayer to test new medication for toxicity and efficacy using 3D-printed heart tissue and eventually whole human 3D-printed hearts, over a number of years.

Last April, Dvir’s lab unveiled the world’s first 3D-printed heart with human tissue and vessels, calling it a major medical breakthrough.

The researchers estimate that it will be possible to print personalized organs and tissues within 10-15 years, thus eliminating the need for organ donations and the risk of transplant rejection, Ramot said in a statement on Sunday, announcing the collaboration with Bayer.

Tal Dvir, the head of the lab at Tel Aviv University that in April 3D-printed a heart, May 2, 2019 (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

Until then, this innovative technology “has the potential to revolutionize” a different medical field, that of drug screening, Ramot said in the statement.

Drug candidates go through several phases of screening before reaching pharmacies. First, the new chemical compound is tested on human tissue cultures on Petri dishes in the lab. Then, it is administered to lab animals. Finally, the drug is approved for human clinical trials. Dvir’s 3D-printed tissues could enable faster, cheaper and more efficient screening than Petri dishes in a lab, the statement said.

“In a Petri dish, all the cells line up in 2D, and it’s only one type of cell,” said Dvir in the statement. “In contrast, our engineered tissues are 3D-printed, and therefore better resembles real heart tissues. Our printed tissues contain cardiac muscle, blood vessels and the extracellular matrix which connects the different cells biochemically, mechanically and electrically. Moving away from Petri dishes to 3D-printed tissues could significantly improve drug tests, saving precious time and money with the hope of producing safer and more effective medication.”

Dvir said he hopes the collaboration with Bayer will enable pre-clinical trials on complete printed organs as well in the near future.

“Our agreement is just the beginning,” said Dvir. “Our end goal is to engineer whole human hearts, including all the different chambers, valves, arteries and veins,” for an “even better toxicological screening process.”

The 3D printed heart by researchers at Tel Aviv University; a view from above, May 2, 2019 (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

Dvir and co-founder Alon Sinai have licensed the technology from Ramot and set up a spin-off startup called Matricelf, which is focusing on creating personalized spinal cord implants to treat paralyzed patients.

Matricelf secured an investment of $1 million in May, according to Start-Up Nation Finder, a database. This funding will allow the startup to reach clinical settings in the near future, the Ramot statement said.

“This collaboration with Bayer will support the evaluation and development of new drugs and is a step in building long-term relations with Bayer that we hope will benefit both partners and ultimately patients,” said Keren Primor Cohen, the CEO of Ramot, in the statement.

The new collaboration with Tel Aviv University “will address a new area of early assessment of safety and tolerability of drug candidates,” said Eckhard von Keutz, head of Translational Sciences at Bayer, in the statement. “We already have a global network of partners and this new project will enable Bayer to expand its open innovation activities to Israel, which provides a dynamic ecosystem for innovation in biotech and medical research.”

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