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How Life Sciences Companies are Solving the Organ Transplant Crisis

Posted on February 2020 By Olivia McNeilis

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Our modern way of life is the cause and the cure to the organ transplantation crisis. Technological advancements and increasing wealth have led to a booming population that suffers chronic illness, obesity and old age. These factors contribute to a massive demand for organs that outstrips supply. In the US alone, over 120,000 people are currently on the transplantation waiting list with 20 people dying each day waiting for an organ. Of these people, 100,000 await kidney transplants.

Most people with two healthy kidneys can act as a living donor to increase the existing organ supply, but only 6,000 living-donor transplants were performed in 2017. Today, it stands that 95% of US adults support organ donation, but only 58% are on the donor list. As of 2010, one in every five kidneys transplanted each year originated in the black market.

What steps are being taken to address the organ shortage?

Several resolutions have been proposed including improving the outcomes a of solid-organ transplantation, creating a donor-priority rule or presumed consent system, xenotransplantation, the development of artificial or synthetic organs, or even forming a regulated market to incentivize the population to sell their spare organs. The success rate of solid-organ transplantation remains an immediate hurdle. Advances in immunosuppression, imaging methods, and donor-recipient matching have progressed rapidly, yet transplanted organs do not last forever and sometimes fail prematurely.

A transplanted pancreas, for example, keeps working for five years in only 57 percent of patients, meaning half will need a second transplant. From 1988 to 2014, the one-year survival rate of patients with liver transplant has not changed. According to one analysis, beyond the first year the likelihood of surviving for 5, 10, or even 20 years was as high for a 1980s-era organ recipient as it is for a patient today.

In solid-organ recipients, there has been no significant change in death over the decades from graft failure or infection, however, the rate of malignancy has increased thanks to the elevated cancer risk from immunosuppression or oncogenic viral infections. There are ripe opportunities for life sciences companies to introduce more efficient methods and devices in the global organ transplantation market.

The organ transplantation market growth

The race is on. The global organ transplantation market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.8% between 2017-2023 to reach a colossal $15 billion.

Only two out of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies are considered players in the transplantation market. In the last decade, only one drug has been approved by the FDA to prevent organ rejection in liver transplant patients. In 2010, regulators gave the green-light to Novartis’ Zortress (everolimus), although everolimus had already been an established part of the immunosuppressive regiment for transplant patients in more than 70 countries outside the USA.

Six Key Facts on the Organ Donor Crisis

Instead, start-up biotech companies are dominating the space. Advancements in xenotransplantation may be finally fulfilling a promise made decades ago. In early 1996, an analyst at Salomon Brothers investment firm wrote a report that made waves through big and small investors, including biotech venture capitalists. The report detailed the“unrecognized potential of transplantation”– suggesting gold awaited the companies that became major players that could successfully transplant animal tissues or organs into humans. Despite early investment, little progress was made. 24 years later and the big advancements (and profits) have yet to be realized. Yet in November of last year, the FDA approved the first pig-to-human tissue transplant, a move that could lead to further transplants in animal-to-human donations. Researchers at the biotech company XenoTherapeutics have genetically engineered miniature pigs to allow for use as temporary skin grafts in second and third-degree burns patients.

This year, Parogonix Technologies also announced the FDA clearance and the US launch of its organ transport system, the SherpaPak, for the pancreas and lungs; adding to its additional cold storage solution for the heart. The device provides more regulated temperatures and better physical protection for organs in transit than the conventional ice cooler; giving every advantage that the organ can be transplanted successfully.

While the US is leading the pack in terms of market growth, thanks to increasing population demand for organs, Europe is also driving investment in research and development.

Scientists at the Amsterdam University Medical Centre (UMC) have set out plans to build a hybrid heart made from stem cells and biotech. Inspired by a soft robotic starfish, the pumping heart will be powered wirelessly and may provide a solution to organ rejection, as well as avoid the need for strong drugs that suppress the immune system that put the patient at risk of infection and malignancy.

The hybrid heart has been shortlisted for £30 million ($38.8 million) in funding from the British Heart Foundation (BHF), which has launched a global competition to provide funding for ‘radical new approaches’ to curing major heat conditions including end stage heart failure. The artificial organ market is forecasted to hit $30.9 billion by 2025.

How to attract transplantation talent

All this innovations comes at a cost – human resources. Only a few major life sciences companies are investing in building research and development teams for novel organ transplant methods and devices. Instead, smaller biotechs are fighting over the handful of professionals with the experience, skill and potential to imagine new solutions and convert them into material reality.

“We have noticed a significant increase in the demand for transplantation talent across the life sciences sector,” says Jae Yoo, the vice president of EPM Scientific, New York. “This need is not surprising, as only three percent of the professionals we surveyed have experience in transplantation research and development.”

In the US, employment in the life sciences sector rose 24% between 2001 and 2018, and biotech research jobs alone have surged 26% since 2013. Global economic growth and employment opportunities introduce fiercer competition for talent. Life sciences companies will need to focus on tapping new and non-traditional sources of talent, at executive and graduate levels, to lead innovate research and development in the organ transplantation market.

Increased competition for the best people means that talent and not the employer holds bargaining power. To remain an ‘employer of choice’, life sciences companies will need to move away from a benefits package focused solely on pay, within prescribed bands, to a comprehensive and flexible system that is tailored to the individual’s needs. To attract candidates with new skill-sets, life sciences companies will also need to understand what the next generation of workers wants from their workplace. Be ready to embrace flexible or remote working and balance the contingent-to-permanent workforce as the workforce and organ transplantation market evolves.

Get in touch

In a highly competitive market, it is crucial to manage your most important resource: people. Get in touch with Jae Yoo to discuss how you can effectively retain and attract research and development talent for the organ transplantation market.

EPM Scientific is proud to be a leading specialist recruiter in life sciences. Founded in 2012, we help clients solve the number one challenge: talent. Today, we provide permanent, contract and multi-hire recruitment solutions to support the whole product life-cycle from research and development through to market launch and pharmacovigilance.

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