2016 was an exciting year for healthcare 3D printing. Heavy investments, mergers and acquisitions, and strategic partnerships from front-runners of the industry seem to mark the beginning of an exciting era for the industry.
2016 started with a BAM! after Stryker announced its new 3D printing facility costing upwards 400 million dollars. Fully aware of the competitive landscape of medical implants, Stryke’s investment in 3D printing is in alignment with its innovative culture. Immediately following that, in March, Stryker received FDA clearance for its 3D printed spinal fusion device, not the first in the company’s history. Also, because of intrinsic technical advantages of 3D printing, using the technology as a production tool may also save the company money in the long run, especially in light of increasing number of FDA approved 3D printed implants.
2. January 2016, Johnson & Johnson Partners with Carbon 3D for Surgical Devices:
What Johnson & Johnson is up to next has been the focus of 3D printing and healthcare lately, as its increasing interest in digital manufacture is becoming very clear. This can be traced back to its partnership with Organovo a few years ago, to its emphasis on personalized medicine and precision medicine. Given Carbon’s CLIP technology, a formidable collection of materials, and a strong life science division including ex-FDA experts, the partnership will prove exciting to the entire industry in the next few years.
3D System has a long history of involvement in healthcare. To date, it is still the main partner with Align Technology, serving as the best example of mass customization. After several acquisitions ranging from Medical Modeling to Simbionix, it is finally consolidating its multiple lines of products ranging from simulation tools to implants into a comprehensive design and production center for healthcare solutions.
4. April 2016, Formlabs announces its first biocompatible resin, Dental SG:
A leader in desktop SLA printing technology, Formlabs announces class 1 biocompatible resin this year. The most immediate beneficiary is the dental community, where is an increasing interesting in bringing multiple manufacture processes in-house, ranging from surgical guides, braces, to dental crowns, among others. More and more printer choices and material selection from desktop 3D printing community can not only make many existing procedures cheaper and faster but can also encourage more profession innovations in a clinician’s office.
In recent years, more and more medical doctors are open to 3D printing as an excellent surgical simulation tool. Many consider it more useful than existing 2D medical imaging or computational simulation in improving operational safety and outcome by providing additional visual and haptic experiences for the surgeon before the actual surgeries. However, lack of reimbursement due to insufficient clinical evidence makes a wider adoption of the technology challenging. In April, Stratasys announced its strategic partnerships with the Jacobs Institute for clinical studies and innovations. Immediately following that, another industrial giant Materialise announced its support to clinical trials and collaboration with healthcare providers during the RAPID conference. These partnerships among industrial leaders and major clinical and research institutes will undoubtedly accelerate data accumulation and innovation in the next few years.
This news is probably the most important announcement to the field of healthcare 3D printing, no matter what part of the ecosystem you belong to. Readers can also find the latest updates on the FDA website. The guideline in many ways will dictate the direction of future innovations and business strategies.
7. May 2016, HP Delivers First Ready-To-Print 3D Printing System, Collaborates with Materialise, Siemens, Autodesk for software:
HP Jet Fusion 3D printing technology claims to be up to 10x faster, and more than half cost reduction. Speed and cost are two very critical (and sometimes life-saving) factors in healthcare products, especially if production rather than prototyping is the end goal. Additionally, open software and material platform will significantly accelerate the potential of innovative use in the healthcare since high costs in these areas have been prohibitive in the past.
This year, General Electric bought itself two expensive early Christmas gifts, two large metal 3D printing companies, Arcam AB and SLM Solution Group. Both companies have a long history of products in both aerospace and healthcare verticals. GE itself has an extensive healthcare portfolio. Having these two companies will not only lower costs from in-house innovation cycle and production, but it will also add implant and medical device market share for GE.
9. November 2016: Terarecon and Whiteclouds Partnership for Healthcare Solutions:
During a global radiology meeting in November (RSNA), the two companies announced their partnership to provide enterprise level one-button solution to create 3D printing simulation models for doctors. This is the first-of-its-kind collaboration between a 3D printing service bureau and a medical software company, signifying the value medical providers place on a more streamlined digital workflow.
Last but not the least, Organovo Inc. ended the year with an uplifting announcement that it will start the second commercial product focusing on kidney tissue. This is a natural extension of the company’s existing liver tissue product. Although total organ production remains in the realm of “Westworld,” advancements in commercial bioprinting and tissue engineering now, allow for a much shorter pharmaceutical R&D cycle, reducing costs and avoiding tough ethical questions raised in animal testing. The additional unspoken benefit of IP protection by keeping drug development in-house will also manifest itself as globalization increases in drug development.