The Week in Advanced Manufacturing Funding – March 6, 2015

Japanese bioprinting firm, Cyfuse Biomedical, raises $11.7 million Series B; The intelligent money is on 3D printing of electronics

On 2 March, Cyfuse Biomedical K.K. announced they had completed a 1.4 billion JPY (approximately $11.7 million USD) Series B funding round, with participation from 12 investors, including venture capital funds and corporate investors as well as government support. The Japanese BioPrinting firm has now raised a total of 1.98 billion JPY, which includes a 422 million JPY (approximately $4.77 million USD) Series A back in January 2013.

The round included three previous investors (Nippon Venture CapitalNissay CapitalUniversity of Tokyo Capital Edge) in addition to nine new investors (CYBERDYNEDaiwa Corporate InvestmentDBJ CapitalJAFCOJapan Science And Technology Agency, JT Financial Service, M3Mitsubishi UFJ CapitalShibuya Kogyo). Notable among the group is CYBERDYNE, a Japanese venture company founded by Prof Yoshiyuki Sankai, best known for innovation in the field of cybernetics and the HAL 5 exoskeleton. The deal likely values Cyfuse between $40 and $60 million USD (and could be as high as $110 million USD).

Cyfuse’s bioprinting technology is based on encapsulated cellular spheroid aggregates (each approximately 0.5mm in diameter), which can be stacked on a needle array using their Regenova bioprinter. Once the spheroids have been correctly placed, the resulting organic structure is then matured in a biorector allowing the cells to grow and self-organize, creating living tissue. This procedure can be carried out with a variety of cells — perhaps most interestingly, human stem cells — in order to create synthetic human tissue.

Cyfuse’s bioprinting technique differs from competing bioprinting startup Organovo mainly in their use of a needle array to create the support structure. Whereas Cyfuse uses spheroid aggregates as building blocks for their tissues, Organovo uses cells contained within bioink. Using Organovo’s bioprinting technology, bioink is deposited without the assistance of a scaffold or needles using a specially modified ink-jet printing system. This free-form technique potentially allows the cells to grow without restriction, creating tissues and organs that operate closer to nature. However, the lack of scaffold makes certain types of tissue more difficult to synthesize and therefore better suited to the technique used by Cyfuse. Thus, it is no surprise that Cyfuse is targeting cartilage and subchondral bone as its initial market, both systems where structure and geometry are critical, while hoping to move on to tubular tissue (blood vessels, digestive organs, urinary organs) next. (Playing to their own strength, Organovo has put significant effort into developing synthetic human liver tissue for drug testing, hoping to tap into the $125 billion (per annum) pharmaceutical R&D market.)

With the new cash injection, Cyfuse is planning to increase headcount, initiate overseas sales of the Regenova bioprinter, expand collaboration with the academic research community, and develop an in-house cell processing facility to provide tissue to university hospitals and other institutions. The latter initiatives underscore the need to develop a strong ecosystem for bioprinting. As the technology is still relatively novel, significant amounts of clinical research are needed to establish the viability of bioprinted tissues and obtain the necessary regulatory approval to truly launch the market. Without significant efforts to engage the medical community in trials and tests, bioprinting technology will grow slowly. Early trend-setters like Cyfuse and Organovo need to accelerate this adoption, otherwise they might not still be in business when the monetary windfall from synthetic biology comes to pass.

Voxel8 receives investment by In-Q-Tel

On March 5, Voxel8 announced that they had closed a strategic investment and technology development agreement with In-Q-Tel. It is unclear whether this this investment comes on top of the previously reported investment round led by Braemar Energy Ventures. In-Q-Tel’s investment has garnered particular notice as the firm is a strategic investment firm designed to support the U.S. Intelligence Community’s technology interests. Former investments include startups in quantum computing, next-generation zinc-poly batteries and big data.

Voxel8’s technology emerges from the laboratory of Harvard Professor and Voxel8 Founder Jennifer Lewis and focuses on the ability to 3D print functional inks. Initial research has focused on printing of highly conductive silver ink (on a  PLA printed using open-source fused filament fabrication technology), but promises to incorporate new functional inks (for example, semiconducting) in the near future to produce a wide range of electronic components, including resistors, dielectrics, sensors and possibly even batteries. The move into 3D electronics printing has been assisted by a partnership with CAD software giant Autodesk, who have announced the development of a 3D electronic design software package, Project Wire.

The ramifications of incorporating electronics design directly into materials and product design are potentially quite profound and could unlock transformative technologies such as metamaterials, especially as the technique is applied to more sophisticated additive manufacturing techniques.

Right now, Voxel8’s 3D Electronics Printer is scheduled to ship late 2015 and carries a pre-order price tag of $8999.

For those who with smaller budgets (and less patience) an intriguing 2D alternative to Voxel8’s offering is Cartesian Co‘s Argentum, a desktop ink-jet-based printer capable of printing Silver, Ascorbic and Ascorbic+ conductive inks on a variety of substrates. The Australia-based startup originally launched with a successful KickStarter campaign and is now selling the assembled printer for $2099.