This story has been corrected. A quotation from the company's co-founder has been updated. A fuller explanation of Organovo's research has been added. And it has been noted that the company intends to conduct earnings calls with analysts.
The company's method, while novel, offers no advantages over those of competitors. Further, the company's products are behind when it comes to proving their value with scientific research.
San Diego-based Organovo uses 3-D bioprinting technology to create cell cultures that pharmaceutical companies can use to experiment on with their developing drugs before they experiment on an animal or a human subject. Organovo specializes in a type of cell culture called liver assays that are used to test the toxicity of chemical compounds.
The problem for investors is that this technology doesn't offer new advantages in the process over competitors.
"Organovo's bioprinter is really like an automatic dispenser," says Guohao Dai, an assistant professor in the department of biomedical engineering at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York. Dai has been studying 3-D bioprinting for six years. He doesn't think a 3-D bioprinter is necessary to make liver assays.
"Organovo isn't using the full power of 3-D printing," said Dai. "3-D printing is used to control many different cells and tissues and to make bigger ones. But a liver is a very simple, small cell, and it aggregates on its own. You don't need a 3-D bioprinter for this, you can even just drop it on the well by hand."
Gabor Forgacs, the company's co-founder, explained this in 2013 in an article in Popular Science:
"The magic," he says, "happens after printing has taken place." Therein lies the biggest misconception about bioprinting: What most people think of as the finished product-the newly printed cellular material-isn't finished at all.
In response to questions for this article, Organovo pointed out this study from 2010 that discusses the importance of self-assembly.
The "magic" happens for Organovo products as well as its competitors' -- and without the use of 3-D bioprinting. There is, however, one important thing that separates them: There is less scientific evidence showing the effectiveness of Organovo's 3-D bioprinter-driven technology.