Wednesday, 8 July 2015

3D printing and pharmaceuticals

3D printing is the manufacturing process used to make three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. At present there are various types of 3D printing processes, which use varying printer technologies, speeds, and resolutions, and different sorts of materials. Despite this variation, it appears possible to develop a 3D object in almost any shape imaginable through computer-aided design.

3D printing technology has received a great deal of attention since it can be used for a variety of purposes, ranging from use on Earth to develop new parts for cars and aircraft engines to far above in space. 3D printing technology has also found use in healthcare, particularly in the area of replacement and reconstructive surgery and customised medical devices. This area of work is seeing increasing cooperation between medical researchers and engineers and a number of commercial companies operate in this field. While some observers are cautious about the extent of progress in using 3D printing in healthcare, others are boldly optimistic and predict a huge market for resulting products.

A new application of 3D printing in the world of pharmaceuticals is set to gain attention, based on technology originally developed by MIT. This is thanks to FDA’s approval of a 3D-printed pill called Spritam for epilepsy. The Agency has already held workshops with various stakeholders to discuss the technicalities of using 3D printing in healthcare. According to the manufacturer of the recently-approved product, the 3D printing technology involves using an aqueous fluid to stitch together multiple layers of powder. This approach apparently packages layers more tightly in precise dosages. As a result it is being positioned to help patients who have difficulties with current dosages. The company hopes to apply the technology to other products.

One hope for use of 3D printing as a novel medicine formulation technique is to develop personalised medicines. A future scenario could involve relatively rapid print-on-demand production of medicines to custom doses. There could be particular benefits for paediatric medicine and another advantage would be a reduction in production costs. Although 3D technology is in its infancy for the printing of drugs, the recent US approval will surely not be the last and could lead to major changes in the industry.

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