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ARMI update: Companies involved in Millyard biotech project will gather for status session

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 30. 2017 6:50PM
ARMI founder Dean Kamen says he is excited by the progress already being made by companies and scientists involved in the tissue biofabrication project. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER -- Companies and scientists from around the country are making progress toward commercially producing pieces of the human body to implant into sick humans.

"We're sort of making the building blocks to ultimately make organs, but the good news is many of our members are filling in the missing links in the chain of technologies that we'll need to go from cells to tissues to pieces of organs to whole organs and it's freaking pretty exciting," inventor Dean Kamen said in an interview in his Millyard office.

Kamen spearheaded the effort to bring the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute, which has about $294 million in government and private investment committed.

"By the end of two years, we'd love to have some of these technologies advanced enough that we are literally working with the Food and Drug Administration to do clinical trials and be on a path to be able to make reasonable quantities of clinically approved products," Kamen said.

More than 100 people involved in the ARMI effort will convene in Manchester on Jan. 4 and 5.

"Two days of where we've been, where we are and where we're going," Kamen said.

Michael Golway, president and CEO of a Kentucky company, Advanced Solutions, plans to attend.

Two of his employees start working in Manchester on Tuesday with a third beginning in February, Golway said.

"We are very early in the ARMI relationship, so there is no material gain yet," Golway said last week. "We have been awarded a grant from ARMI to develop a manufacturing approach for 3-D printing vascularized liver constructs over the next two years."

Matt Anderson looks through glass at the world's first b-axis 3D BioPrinter at the ARMI BioFabUSA launch event at the Millyard in Manchester in July. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE)

Golway said he isn't permitted to provide further details.

Kamen said the federal government, which provides funding through the Department of Defense, wants ARMI to include some "quick-start programs."

"One is to show some immediate capability for regenerative medicine to improve health care, but also by making a quick-start program that has to show results," Kamen said. "It helps you develop the systems and ring them out and find out where they are deficient and fix them."

No organs are part of the quick-start programs.

"The organs are kind of the holy grail, but the quick start will be different kind of cell types and cell expansions and certain kind of tissue developments whether it's cardiac tissue or muscle or cartilage or bone," Kamen said. 

Logistics will be critical to the products developed by ARMI.

"You can make a product that can sit on a warehouse shelf if it's electronics or mechanical things, but we can't make an organ for someone and go put it in inventory somewhere," Kamen said. "This finished product might have a shelf life of four hours."

So the product's development, manufacturing, handling, shipping and delivery will have to be carefully organized, he said.

"They seem like mundane problems, but until we solve those problems, all this magic is going to be great for people to go win the Nobel Prize ... but it isn't going to help people benefit from that knowledge until we scale it up (commercially)," he said.

"All I'm trying to do is make sure that if there's any gap in the ability to get to scale and deliver the product, we will bring the engineering and technical resources to fill that gap to the table," Kamen said.

Kamen cited Rockwell Automation, which bills itself as the world's largest company dedicated to industrial automation and information. The Milwaukee-based company has pledged $10 million over five years for ARMI-related work.

"Rockwell doesn't design and build cars, "but they design and build all the robotics systems that allows the car companies to build more consistent, high-quality cars," Kamen said. "They're an automation company."

A spokesman for Rockwell said he couldn't comment on his company's ARMI work.

Pharma giants, including Pfizer and Merck, help direct their funds and receive benefits from their investment, Kamen said.

"What we hope we're going to do is direct their funding, which gets counted as funding that they give to us as we give it to small groups of people or startups to create some technologies that we later will hand over to those big companies to bring to scale," Kamen said. "What they get is access to helping direct where it goes. They get access to seeing how it's being developed and then they get acess to scale it."

Mike Skelton, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said the Millyard has garnered attention in recent years for its rise of high tech.

"Our challenge going forward is building on this momentum and ensuring initiatives like ARMI reach its full potential and other Millyard technology businesses have the support, workforce, and favorable business environment they need to continue to grow and thrive in Manchester," Skelton said.

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