As of September 2020, approximately 109,000 men, women, and children are on the national transplant waiting list. Over 90,000 of these patients are waiting for kidney transplants. Unfortunately, 17 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant, and a new patient is added to the list every ten minutes.

There are two options for kidney disease, dialysis or transplantation, but neither are permanent solutions as the kidneys can fail over time. Scientists are optimistic about the future in terms of looking at other sources for improving kidney supply, such as kidneys from nonhuman mammals, bioartificial implantable kidneys, and now 3D bioprinting. Two companies have recently announced the expansion of their collaboration to include 3D bioprinting of human kidneys for transplant.

Israel-based CollPlant Biotechnologies and United Therapeutics announced September 21, that they will expand their collaboration with an aim to help reduce global organ shortages of kidney transplants, and potentially save the lives of millions of patients on waiting lists.

3D printed lung scaffold © 2020 United Therapeutics Corp.

“Organ shortages are an unmet global health need and by partnering with United Therapeutics for the past couple of years, we have made significant progress with this pivotal organ manufacturing initiative,” explained Yehiel Tal, CEO of CollPlant.

CollPlant is a regenerative and aesthetic medicine company developing innovative technologies and products for tissue regeneration and organ manufacturing. The collaboration agreement combines CollPlant’s recombinant human collagen (rhCollagen) and BioInk technology with the regenerative medicine and organ manufacturing capabilities of United Therapeutics. Their products address indications for the diverse fields of tissue repair, aesthetics, and organ manufacturing.

United Therapeutics is a biotechnology company focused on the development and commercialization of innovative products to address the unmet medical needs of patients with chronic and life-threatening conditions.

“United Therapeutics is pioneering the emerging organ manufacturing field, and we are honored to be part of this effort via this partnership. This option exercise demonstrates another important validation of our rhCollagen platform technology, performing as an optimal building block for regenerative medicine. We remain committed to exploring new innovative applications in the fields of medical aesthetics and 3D bioprinting of tissues and organs,” concluded Tal.

Martine Rothblatt, PhD, chairman and CEO of United Therapeutics, also expressed his excitement for the collaboration which will extend past the 3D bioprinting of human kidneys. “We are excited to expand our collaboration with CollPlant’s extraordinary technology to transform the tobacco plant—one that is so associated with devastating diseases—into a collagen-expressing plant that will be essential to the production of an unlimited number of transplantable organs,” he said. “Our collagen-expressing plants are already flourishing in Texas where we enjoy three growing seasons.”

In 2018, United Therapeutics collaborated with CollPlant to develop technologies for 3D bioprinted lung transplants. The collaboration granted United Therapeutics an option to expand the field of its license to add up to three additional organs. The new agreement builds on the initial agreement. As part of the contract, United Therapeutics has also paid $3 million to exclusively license CollPlant’s collagen and BioInk products for future projects.

3D bioprinting is a pioneering technology that enables the fabrication of biomimetic, multiscale, multi-cellular tissues with highly complex tissue microenvironment, intricate cytoarchitecture, structure-function hierarchy, and tissue-specific compositional and mechanical heterogeneity. Bones, corneas, skin, brain-like tissues are some of the biggest breakthroughs of bioprinted organs.

The latest collaboration will aid in the shortage of global organ donations, and gives hope to those affected and waiting. Under financial terms of the original collaboration agreement, CollPlant received an upfront payment of $5 million and will receive milestone payments of up to $15 million based on the achievement of certain operational and regulatory milestones related to the development of manufactured lungs. United Therapeutics has an option to extend the license to two remaining additional life-saving organs. As a result of the option exercise for human kidneys, the options have been extended for an additional one year through November 9, 2021.

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