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ARMI: Success scaling manufacture of human tissue will accelerate military investment

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 07. 2018 9:12AM

Michael Beyer, left, product manager of Hudson-based Integra, talks about his company's liquid handling products with Christopher Long from Hesperos in Orlando, during the ARMI BioFabUSA spring summit in the Millyard Wednesday. MICHAEL COUSINEAU/UNION LEADER (MICHAEL COUSINEAU/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — The Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute’s BioFabUSA program is making “excellent” progress and could get more federal dollars, a Defense Department official said Wednesday.

The news comes as hundreds of people from around the country convened for a two-day spring summit to discuss how to work together to manufacture human tissue commercially to help sick people.

“Once we get these initial round of projects started, I think you’re going to see the accelerator go right to the floor and see more results,” John Getz, program manager at BioFabUSA, who works for the Defense Department, said in an interview.

The Defense Department has committed $80 million in funding during the first five years that will be combined with more than $200 million from private sources.

“I would anticipate additional funding, based on the availability of funds, being allocated in addition to the $80 million in years six and seven,” Getz said.

CVS Health Corp. also is joining the effort, bringing its expertise in the health care industry. It also is in the process of merging with health insurer Aetna.

CVS executive Alan Lotvin said the federal government is paying more for health care each year, as are many Americans who are taking on a greater portion of their medical and prescription bills.

“We have real, real problems and real, real pressures and they’re not going to go away,” Lotvin said. “They’re only going to get worse.”

He urged summit participants to focus on finances as well as the science.

“As you move these products through the laboratory and through testing, and into commercialization, you have to start thinking about the payment models early on,” Lotvin said.

Inventor Dean Kamen, who spurred the development of ARMI in the Millyard, told summit participants that they need to bridge the gap between laboratory gains and wide-scale manufacturing.

“Almost every major new technology goes through this process of ‘nobody believes it can happen, it’s too expensive to bring to scale, it will never be accepted, and then all of a sudden it goes from indefensible to indispensable,” Kamen said in his address.

ARMI board members this week approved 11 projects, in full or in part, after reviewing 31 submissions. Details and costs weren’t available.

ARMI hopes to commercially produce tissue — and perhaps, one day, organs — to implant into sick and injured people.

Among those attending the summit was Joe Petrosky, vice president of global sales for California-based PBS Biotech, which makes bioreactors and hopes to work with ARMI to learn how to produce vast quantities of stem cells to help cure conditions such as diabetes.

“I think the real accelerator is to help these potential cures in the lab actually reach the market,” he said.

Kamen said technology has helped silence skeptics through the decades.

“Time after time, the cynics predict horrible, disastrous economic life issues, and time after time technology comes to the rescue,” he said.

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