3D Printed Pharmaceutical Drugs: A Revolution or a Technology Fad?

We look at the world of drug development and how 3D printing could be potentially destroying the integrity of the drug development phase and creating gaps of uncertainty within legislation and regulations.

3D printers have become the latest technology phenomenon to hit the NPD remit on a global scale and in a big way. 3D printing has revolutionised the NPD roadmap allowing companies to revise designs, or to even produce product to sell commercially! Origin Pharma have a dedicated 3D printing department as part of their PILOT process the primary packaging design process to enable clients to make amends to 3D printed pharmaceutical packaging designs before it goes to pilot or commercial tooling. Today we delve into the topic of 3D printing of drugs for human consumption.

Aprecia Pharmaceuticals were the first drug pharmaceutical company to use 3D printing technology to produce an actual drug to treat epilepsy. What an achievement to produce something that has not gone through the normal manufacturing process and yet, can be consumed by an actual human being. Aprecia have not only paved the way for drugs to become more accessible to the everyday consumer, but have also strengthened the real possibility that manufacturing drugs on a large scale is achievable.

The advantages of the material used to deliver 3D printed drugs is that the tablet itself is instantly dissolvable, therefore eradicating a huge issue of swallowing large pills as the tablet will dissolve once it hits the tongue. A remarkable achievement that has not only seen a 3D printed drug but one which has been officially approved by the FDA.

The ability to produce 3D printed drugs has now created a whole new subject matter which has been bubbling away on the minds of scientists, pharmaceutical manufacturers; drugs can become tailored to a specific individuals’ needs. Visualise a world where you can walk into a pharmacy and be asked questions around your height, weight and body fat % and have drugs created for your specific metrics. No wastage, costs are dramatically reduced in production, and more importantly the end consumers are taking the exact amount required to assist with their health.

According to Dr Stephen Hilton of University College London – School of Pharmacy, “High street pharmacists will be able to create bespoke drugs for patients within the next decade though means of 3D printing.” The possibilities have been blown wide open, with the potential of the production of components assembling themselves within a stomach to replace the universal gastric band (which is a known as a risky procedure in current practices).

The mass appeal of this notion is that pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t lose out on business, as the pharmacy would still have to buy the filaments from the pharma manufacturer. However, space will not be taken up by piles of pill boxes and other pills that are an everyday item in the pharmacy. The pill can be product in real-time, there and then once their customer has placed their order; a drive through pharmacy!

A less discussed possibility is the world of topical applications & topical prints. Printed patches could become an option for slow release medications with a sterile generic ‘carrier’ patch being issued to the 3D facility for impregnation with the appropriate medication to the patient-specific medical requirement.

The regularity on local, regional and global levels is very naive when trying to appease the 3D printing technique, when revolutionising the current drug development market. The areas of concern are that of what is being regulated. Is it the 3D printing machine, the ingredients or even the person doing the printing? 3D printing suddenly becomes a field which has many obvious mines that must be confronted. The ‘revolutionary technique’ becomes an instant set back in ‘revolutionising’ the pharmaceutical drug development market.

It becomes even more science fiction when there are talks of a pill that can be taken in the morning and release a cocktail of drugs/ molecules over the duration of the day at certain intervals. Time to put away the pill organiser and with one swallow in the morning, you are set for the day.

Technologies and the human mind are developing every day and 3D printing will eventually become the norm. The sounds coming out of the health arena is that actual human organs will be reproduced through 3D printing.

Life is becoming faster and we as consumers need to understand the developments to become early adopters, or risk being laggards and not being one with the new processes that are entering our everyday lives.

What will be next; a 3D printed heart for the human? 3D printed drugs were a far-fetched idea only a few years ago.