US patent number 9505173 was awarded to Sartorius Stedim Biotech at the end of last month for a three dimensional printing device, system and method to be used under sterile conditions.
“The printer assembly is intended for single-use applications, and thus is disposable after use,” the patent by the German bioprocessing company states.
Biopharma-Reporter.com spoke with Erika Trauzzi, director of Business Development at Sartorius, who said that while this is a foundational patent and not yet part of the firm’s product roadmap, such a system could have various applications for drugmakers and developers.
“Theoretically, I can see this being used for fast production of miniaturised organ models for drug screening, for example, or even of therapeutic patches - cardiomyocyte implants, for example - though this application might be some time yet in the future,” she said.
“The combination of this technology with single use fluid handling elements could make this a safer, more sanitary methodology than open cultivation for producing such 3-D models.”
Headquartered in Göttingen, Germany, Sartorius is a major vendor of single-use upstream and downstream systems for use in the biomanufacturing industry. And Trauzzi did not rule out any opportunities to 3D print bioprocessing components within the aseptic single-use “bubble” of the patented system.
“The patent doesn’t specify what type of ink a structure is printed with inside the bubble. It could be cells, or it could be parts of a [biomanufacturing] system itself,” she said, but added the latter would likely be just “for arcane applications” rather than for generic platforms.
Like many other industries, the biopharma space has begun to embrace 3D printing technology.
The US approved the first 3D printed drug in the form of Aprecia Pharmaceuticals Spritam (levetiracetam) in 2015, for example. And companies like tech firm Organova have developed 3D printed organ systems for use in preclinical testing as a supplement to in vitro and animal studies.
Meanwhile, earlier this year researchers in the UK developed a ‘bio-ink’ carrying stem cells which could be used with a printing system to surgical implants.
And as the cost of such technology drops, bio-ink and 3D printing will likely be increasingly applied within the biopharma and processing industries.
“As with many cutting edge technologies, cost of components decreases sharply after the early adopter phase, and as bio-inks are further created and refined, this should become more feasible too,” Trauzzi told us.
“Only a few years ago, 3-D printers were well over $100K and now you have the ThingMaker [a 3D toy printer marketed by Mattel] to make toys by for about $300. I think any cost of production case you make now will be obsolete in a short time.”