As per the experts, one of the key reasons for the failure of therapeutic candidates in clinical trials is the use of conventional 2-dimensional (2D) cell culture systems in early research studies. The 2D systems are severely limited in a number of aspects. For instance, only 50% of the cell surface is exposed to the culture media; as a result, the actual responses of cells to specific modulators / stimulants cannot be accurately understood. It is worth noting that attrition rates of close to 95% have been reported for anti-cancer drug candidates as a result of inaccurate in vitro drug efficacy results and unforeseen toxicity issues that were not properly assessed due to the limitation of 2D culture models. As a alternative, 3D Cell Cultures are gaining rapid traction.
The use of advanced 3-dimensional (3D) cell culture techniques in in vitro studies is seen to have the capability to overcome several challenges associated with 2D systems. Advances in biotechnology and materials science have enabled the development of a variety of 3-dimensional (3D) cell culture models. These systems have been demonstrated to be capable of more accurately simulating the natural tissue microenvironment and, thereby, can help overcome most of the challenges associated with 2D systems.
In addition, there are certain complex 3D cell culture models that are likely to soon replace animal models. The varying cell proliferation zones and non-uniform exposure of cells (to media and the drug candidate under evaluation) within a 3D structure makes it a better culture system than 2D cultures.
The ability of such systems to emulate the in human physiological environment increases the chances of identifying potentially ineffective and toxic compounds before they are advanced to clinical trials. Presently, a diverse range of products, such as 3D inserts, microfluidic plates, suspension cultures, hydrogels, ECMs and 3D bioreactors, are available for facilitating the growth of cells in 3D systems. These culture systems are being used across four major application areas including cancer research, drug discovery and toxicity testing, stem cell research and tissue engineering / regenerative medicine.
The overall effect of COVID-19 of slowing down the economy due to lockdowns might also affect the sales of 3D cell culture products. However, during the pandemic, 3D cell cultures that model tissues affected by the virus will help to investigate the virus and the development of drugs against it. Further, development of highly physiologically relevant ex vivo cellular models will accelerate the development of cures to many diseases including COVID-19. Also the demand for 3D cell culture products will grow as the need for increased research and development around COVID-19 has grown up to a significant level. Therefore, it is believed that COVID-19 will rather boost this niche field in the coming decade.