The pharmaceutical sector is shifting focus towards manufacturing more personalized medicines than mass production, which has broaden the scope of 3D printing in healthcare industry. 3D printed drugs can potentially make a revolutionary mark. Benefits of using 3D printing technology for manufacturing personalized drugs include ability to manufacture small batches, new formulations for enhanced drugs, quick pre-medical assessment and approval for drugs, tailored dosages with release characteristics, avoidance of product liability risk and cyber risk and safe and efficient patient-centric treatment. It offers incorporation of flavors into pills without requiring any film coating yet entirely concealing chemical compound taste. 3D medical printers can be installed in hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and places with cold chain storages, enabling production of drugs instantly on demand for treating patients particularly with poor stability. In addition, 3D printing technology can reduce cost of manufacturing and production waste and pollution significantly as printers deposit exact amount of raw materials required.
The first 3D printed medicine is Spritam (levetiracetam) manufactured by Aprecia Pharmaceuticals LLC made using Aprecia’s proprietary ZipDose technology. Spritam obtained approval from FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in 2015. This antiepileptic drug is orodispersible tablet composed with super disintegrates, which helps tablets to fully dissolve within seconds in the mouth without need for water. The ZipDose technology offers production of very high doses up to 1,000mg, which cannot be typically achievable using conventional manufacturing methods. ZipDose uses drop-on-solid printing technique, where drops of a liquid binding agent are dispersed by a nozzle and deposited on a pharmaceutical powder bed, binding free-form powder where it lands, forming a 3D structure.
In April 2020, FabRx Ltd., which is a UK-headquartered start-up biotech company, launched a 3D printer – M3DIMAKER – for manufacturing personalized drugs. M3DIMAKER is specially designed to offer changeable nozzle feature to extrude medical formulae according to different dosage requirements. The company manufactured the printer designed using a different extrusion method, named as direct powder extrusion (DPE). Similar to Aprecia Pharmaceutical’s ZipDose technology, DPE technology deposits an agent on a print bed through a single-extrusion nozzle. Both the technologies enable production of multiple combination pills delay-release tablets.
In February 2020, German-based technology company – Merck KGaA, announced collaboration with Monetary Authority of Macao (AMCM) for R&D and production of 3D printed drugs for clinical trials and for clinical manufacturing. The goal of partnership was to produce drugs by powder bed fusion technique, where a laser melts and binds powder layer by layer. The duo expect to use this technology and manufacture tablets faster and at reasonable cost avoiding risk of reformulations. Similarly, Europe-based pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, has partnered with the University of Nottingham to manufacture 3D printed drugs to treat Parkinson’s disease.
The traditional one-sized drug development has rather become inefficient. Thus, Pharmaceutical companies need to adopt 3D printing technology to make more personalized drugs, invest in research and development, reduce cost of production, and minimize waste. This will lead to more cost-effective and streamlined supply chains and improved sustainability. This, in turn, will help companies to be ahead of the competition in the coming years.