Like something in a movie, Melanie Matheu peered into a microscope and saw the future. A time when lasers print human organs. This week Sandra and I feature Prellis Biologics. Our guests are a powerhouse duo, Co-Founders CEO Melanie Matheu, Ph.D. and Noelle Mullin, Ph.D., CSO.
Prellis Biologics is another company from the IndieBio accelerator which is tied to SOSV’s efforts to invest in biotech. By their own estimate, transplantable kidneys (or whichever organ they produce first—for this article we’ll use kidneys) will be available in 5 to 8 years. Think about this…
We’re all living longer. The things that used to kill us in our 40-60s are now manageable…that management often creates opportunities for kidney disease to reach end-stage. That means dialysis.
The Ugly Truth
Medicare’s End Stage Renal Disease Program (ESRD) began in 1973. Currently, nearly there are over 400,000—We must remember the actual number of people suffering from kidney disease is estimated as greater than 600,000--patients enrolled in the program. Once on dialysis, the only way off is to get a transplant or die. In 2012 Medicare paid $10.7 BILLION dollars for ESRD.
Annually 16,000 people receive transplants each year. Since there are approximately 100k people on the list to receive a kidney…there’s millions of people waiting or dying to get a kidney who will never receive one.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 10 percent of American adults – about 20 million people — have chronic kidney disease. This doesn’t mean that these people are on the transplant list, but they do require medical attention…and many of them will end up on dialysis.
Since we know that transplant is the best answer for care when dealing with kidney disease…Prellis’ work becomes even more crucial. Since kidney disease often has no cure, ultimately, transplant is the answer for most of these 20 million people.
Remember this is just the US we are discussing. When we scale the kidney disease problem globally, we’re looking at hundreds of millions of people perishing if no donor is available.
One more thing to consider, we’re just talking kidneys. When we mix in problems like liver disease, diabetes, burns, etc…there are billions of people that would benefit from the organs and tissues that Prellis printing.
--Prellis intends to print a variety of other bio items besides organs…but that’s another show.--
Currently, the companies working on printing tissue are fighting the same problem, hypoxia. The answer according to Melanie and Noelle is their ability to print a vascular structure that will deliver oxygen throughout the printed kidney. The lasers that print the vascular structure are printing with speed and resolution not possible amongst other attempts to create tissue. 250 micros or about as thick as 2 pieces of printer paper…that is the thickness of the capillaries that Prellis is printing.
To ensure the tissue survives, the capillary beds, are the real difference is made. At the capillary bed, fresh blood drops off water, oxygen and nutrients, collecting waste materials such as carbon dioxide from the cells so that they can be expressed from the body.
Kidneys on Demand
One of my closest friends nearly died about 11 years ago from kidney disease. Given the numbers above, the ability to find him a donor was truly divine. How many people like him over the years didn’t find someone…another dear friend donated a kidney…to save another life. How many of us are registered and willing to give a kidney?
Now, in our lifetime, when doctors diagnose a patient with kidney disease. That event will trigger the production of a new kidney, using their own cells—eliminating the harmful, yet essential anti-rejection drug protocol.
One of the drawbacks of anti-rejection protocols is cancer—aggressive cancer. The drugs that keep the body from killing the kidney also prevent the body from fighting off cancer—another win for Prellis.
That kidney will be available in about 4 months. It’ll cost about $150,000. A small price considering the lives changed, improved and saved.
What do we do about people who suffer from addiction? We discuss this in the episode. Morally, there’s no issue with giving someone with kidney disease a new organ. It’s not their fault if their DNA predisposes them toward kidney disease…but with the disease of addiction, it gets tougher.
How do we deny an addict the care they need in terms of a kidney? How do we allow an addict to continue hurting themselves and the people around them? How do we deny that addict a chance to keep fighting their disease? Tough dilemmas that continue to complicate the discussion on standards of care.
--Podcaster Note: As hosts, Sandra and I must remain mindful of many things. We need to keep a science heavy topic, with brilliant PhD level guests, fun and entertaining. Simultaneous management and awareness is required on a variety of elements throughout an episode. In this case, Sandra and I had to be sure we spent some time with the ladies to create some rapport, trust and comfort. This time spent is reflected in our ability to talk about the future achievements of the company, and the ethical dilemma topics. Our time gaining trust with Melanie and Noelle was rewarded with a fun and entertaining show.--
Now we finished the hard stuff, I wanted to note that Melanie and Noelle are hilarious. Sandra and I had a ball recording with them. We talked about the “I am God” monologue that Alec Baldwin delivered in Malice. I am sure Alec is the man for the brand ambassador job.
These are incredible days. If Prellis’ timeline holds, and we are transplanting new kidneys, livers and pancreases in 8 years; since a collegiate medical track takes 8 years, plus, the extra years it takes to become a transplant specialist. We’re late in building up the medical capacity required to operate on the millions of people that already stand in line to have their life saved by what Melanie saw in that microscope.