BioprintingCellular Agriculture

Who is Andras Forgacs, the man who co-founded both Organovo and Modern Meadow

And what do these companies mean for the future of commercial biofabrication

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While visiting Hungary in 2014 I learned that both Organovo and Modern Meadow – the two companies that have single-handedly introduced the very concept of commercial bioprinting and cellular agriculture-based biofabrication applications – were founded by men of Hungarian origins. I did not realize that they were the same two people – father and son – for both companies. Andras Forgacs co-founded Organovo with his father, Professor Gabor Forgacs of the University of Missouri. He then left the company in 2013 head Modern Meadow (which he also co-founded with his father). Today he is pushing the introduction of the Zoa “biofabricated” leather material and discussing its potential at high profile events such as the recent World Economic Forum in Davos.

As reported by BBC journalist Katie Hope, who met with him in Davos, Mr. Forgacs expects to launch the first Zoa product sometime this year. The product is created from yeast cells that are fermented in a similar way to beer to create collagen, the protein that gives skin its strength and elasticity. From here it is assembled into a sheet that can be adapted in various ways depending on its purpose. Mr.  Forgacs says his firm’s target won’t only be the fashion industry and eventually, he expects the fabric to be used for a variety of purposes, including clothing, shoes, handbags, car and plane interiors and furniture.

Judging from Forgacs’ previous experiences, this is exactly what is going to happen. Unlike previous experiences, hopefully, this time it will be his company to fully reap the benefits of his foresightedness.

The Organovo heritage

Organovo was the first company to put bioprinting on the map as a possible commercial application. The company was founded by Dr. Forgacs after he quit his career as a theoretical physicist. He set about developing a process to print multi-cellular tissues – dubbed bioprinting – in 2005, and two years later founded Organovo with colleagues Keith Murphy and Dr. Eric Michael David, based on a patent for the NovoGen bioprinting platform.

Andras Forgacs
A NovoGen bioprinter at Organovo. Credits: Organovo

Over the years Organovo received several million in funding to produce human tissue for commercial applications.  The company was the very first to use bioinks – a hydrogel containing human stem cells- and dispense the layer by layer to build up 3D tissues. Organovo produced a range of products, including a vascular graft, liver tissue fragments kidney tissue and cardiac patches. Although the long term stated goal was building functional and implantable human organs, it soon became clear that the first commercial applications would be in the development of tissue for drug development testing in the pharmaceutical industry.

The company was listed on the NASDAQ index and its stock reached an all-time high of $13* during the 3D printing stock bubble of 2013, to subsequently drop down to just under $1. The company has also struggled with introducing its products to the market, with too few large pharmaceutical companies finding value in the 3D tissue. In many ways, Organovo proved to be too ahead of its time, with several other companies introducing similar systems in the following years which seem to be able to produce the same type of bioprinted products at much lower costs.

Enter Modern Meadow

In 2013, Organovo filed an 8K announcing that Andras Forgacs, resigned from Organovo as a member of the Board of Directors. Since then he focused entirely and is still currently the CEO of modern meadow (his father Gabor is the Chief Scientific Officer). The company’s initial value proposition is simple: to use biofabrication to grow collagen protein without killing animals.

Andras Forgacs
Samples of Zoa™ leather

Modern Meadow shifted focus from growing cultured meat and materials to only focusing on materials as early on as 2012, mainly due to high costs of producing lab-grown meat products. A short time later, in 2013 Google, worked with Professor Mark Post from Maastricht University to produce the first full hamburger made in a lab from cultured meat cells. The hamburger had an estimated cost of $300,000. Several startups have followed since, founding an entire movement which is best represented by the New Harvest company and events on cellular agriculture. Companies like Memphis Meat brought the cost of lab-grown meat from $300,000 to just a few hundred and even less in a matter of a few years.

Instead, Modern Meadow intends to grow leather. They are doing this by modifying the DNA of yeast to produce collagen and then using a fermentation process to grow the collagen protein.  The collagen protein is assembled into a material through a material science based biofabrication process. The firm is still only producing the fabric in small quantities but Forgacs believes his firm can disrupt the $200bn (£153bn) leather industry. Zoa™ is Modern Meadow’s first biofabricated materials brand. It can be any density, hold to any mold, create any shape and take on any texture. IT can be combined with any other material, liquid or solid. In line with the company’s overall vision, it is grown with the intention of making things of real value, that exist not just to serve humans, but to co-exist with everything.

As with Forgacs’ previous previous ventures and cellular agriculture, Zoa is getting plenty of media attention. In many ways, it combines aspects of biofabrication, material science and cellular agriculture in ways that may finally result in a truly disruptive commercial product. Whether Modern Meadows succeeds or not in bringing it to market, someone eventually will.

  • This article was modified on January 29th to reflect the fact that Organovo’s stock peaked at $13 and not at $7 as previously written.
  • This article was modified on February 23rd to correct some factual inaccuracies:
    • The company’s initial value proposition is simple; to be able to print meat and leather.
      • This is incorrect. Modern Meadow never planned to print materials at all. The idea and technology was always to use biofabrication to grow collagen protein without killing animals.
    • In 2014 Modern Meadow worked with Google on producing the first full hamburger made in a lab from cultured meat cells. The hamburger had an estimated cost of $300,000. Thus meat was not the initial focus of the company.
      • This was not Modern Meadow at all. Modern Meadow shifted focus from growing cultured meat and materials to only focusing on materials as early on as 2012. The company never partnered with Google on anything.
    • Instead, Modern Meadow intends to print leather.
      • Modern Meadow is not printing leather. The company is growing leather by modifying the DNA of yeast to produce collagen and then using a fermentation process to grow the collagen protein and then using material science to assemble the collagen protein into a material. This is all done through biofabrication.
    • Also – there were two typos where we called Moder Meadow’s biofabricated materials brand Noa instead of Zoa™. Zoa™ biofabricated materials are the correct full name of the brand.
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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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  1. You are absolutely right, my mistake… I actually bought it at $7 and was so happy for a few weeks 😀

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