3D Bioprinting in India Today

Piyush Padmanabhan (Co-Founder and Director of Next Big Innovation Labs) sheds light on the status quo of 3D Bioprinting in India and much more..

30th June 2019

Next Big Innovation Labs, a revolutionary company on its own. It is the first bioprinting company in India to have built a completely customisable bioprinter to address the needs of the Indian research community. 

Customizable bioprinters are absolutely essential to address the growing diversity of clinical challenges. Each challenge has its own particular requirements, the printers have to be designed along with the clinical community who is going to use it.” – Gordon Wallace – Pioneer in 3D Bioprinting – University of Wollongong, Australia

With 3D Bioprinted Skin in its last leg of R&D and launching later this year, let’s have a chat with one of the building blocks of the company, Piyush Padmanabhan, co-founder and director of Next Big Innovation Labs.

Hi Piyush, Can you walk us through your journey – how did you start and get to where you are today?

I’m a Biotechnology Engineer from Vellore Institute of Technology. After my graduation, I worked for a few years in the pharmaceutical industry with Biocon & Roche in their Sales and Marketing wings. I was working in the promotion of drugs used for the treatment of chronic kidney and liver failure. During these years, I understood that there is a huge gap between the need and availability of organs. Finally, with a goal towards bridging this gap, I joined hands with other founders to setup NBIL and became a Biotech Entrepreneur.

Piyush Padmanabhan at Merck Accelerator’s Demo Day Event at Merck HQ at Darmstadt, Germany

Most importantly, if you observe the statistics, the gap between organ demand and availability in India is enormous. With diabetes and hypertension on the rise in India, incremental occurrences of organ failures are being recorded every year. The clinicians, pharmaceutical companies, NGOs, volunteer organisations and the governments are doing their best to spread the awareness about organ donations. Traditional beliefs, fear and lack of understanding of the current nation-wide organ shortage have led this message to fall on deaf ears. 3D Bioprinting’s holy grail has never been more important – it is the need of the hour.

As an Entrepreneur, I bring in the sales know-how and market understanding to build 3D Bioprinting technologies and products that bring value to the customers and push towards the continuous innovation in our product lines with the involvement of the teams at NBIL.

India Innovation Growth Program, Idea2POC Grant (Karnataka State Government) and Biotechnology Ignition Grant (Central Government of India) have been key drivers for NBIL’s success

We know that there are a number of researchers working in the bioprinting space in India. What are your thoughts about the bioprinting scenario in India?

Yes, a lot of research is happening in this domain around the world, India has some interesting research being conducted too. Pockets of 3D Bioprinting research are present around the country; Bengaluru, Trivandrum, New Delhi to name a few. The premier institutes such as IIT Mumbai, Indian Institute of Science and Sri Chithra Thirunal leading the way. A few institutes, such as IIT Delhi and IIT Guwahati, are also operating in the soft tissue printing space. With research ranging from building scaffolds out of pure natural ingredients to bioprinting complex architectures out of synthetic polymers, the diversity of 3D bioprinting in India is great but such diversity requires the engineering to work for the biotechnology and biomaterials. Each type of research deals with different cell types, biomaterials, pneumatic ranges, nozzle sizes and temperatures.

Our interactions with key opinion leaders and scientists (both academic and corporate) led us to believe that the bottleneck in most projects was the technology that came along with it. Indian research funding has come leaps and bounds since the early days of bioprinting in India. With multiple grants from private companies and governments, the ecosystem has been well funded along the years and the positive fact is that the funding opportunities are growing as the years pass by. 

Even with the grants supporting the ecosystem financially, the high price paid to buy a commercial 3D bioprinter, which can support only a few forms of 3D bioprinting research, has not gone down well with many researchers in India. The technology that is available to Indian researchers is not made in India but by companies operating in the European Union or in the USA. This is one of the reasons behind the high price of technology. The post-sale service, although present, has not been as per the expectations of the researchers buying the technology. The cost, the lack of customisation options and the mediocre post-sale servicing options are the key contributors to the woes of the Indian 3D bioprinting researcher. 

Did this lead NBIL to work on Trivima?

Yes, this was the turning point where we decided to build a completely customisable 3D Bioprinter (Trivima). At NBIL, we believe that technology has to work for the biotechnology. We believe that the 3D bioprinters must be as malleable as the bioinks they have to support. Customisation is the need of the hour in the global 3D bioprinting ecosystem, especially in India.

 Understanding this earlier on helped us at NBIL, as we learned that we needed to have complete -control over the 3D bioprinting engineering in order to achieve our goals. 12 months into the inception of the company, we built our first 3D Bioprinter. The technology developed by our team allowed us to explore multiple nuances in the realm of 3D bioprinting. With key technology patents, we have built printers that are far more customisable and precise as compared to the current commercial 3D bioprinters. The variations in temperatures, nozzle diameters, speed of printing, automation and extruder mechanisms have allowed us to service multiple researchers looking for this level of customisation and has allowed us to explore a plethora of biomaterials and cell types.

What’s next for NBIL?

We are getting our technology validated for clinical use cases and to better understand the applications of 3D bioprinting across industrial sectors.  Our 3D bioprinting technology was recently showcased at Merck’s headquarters in Darmstadt in March 2019 and the interaction with multiple innovators and verticals within Merck has allowed us to gain a deeper understanding into the application of the technology into new-age applications such as Organ on a Chip and Clean Meat.

Using the technology we have built in-house, we are currently in the late stages of R&D of our first product, Innoskin® HE. Innoskin® HE is 3D Bioprinted human epidermis that can currently be used for pharmaceutical, cosmetic and chemical testing purposes. Although the beginning of this product line is in testing applications, we seek to see Innoskin® go all the way into the clinic to treat wounds, burns and other skin related corrections.

Customisable Extruder Component | ©NBIL