3D Printing Pharmaceuticals: Drug Development to Frontline Care!

TLDR: This story is a summary of the academic article with the same name by Sarah J. Trenfield and Atheer Awad, that explores how 3D printing is changing the pharmaceutical industry away from offering mass-manufactured, generic medicines to custom ‘printlets’ or dosages of medicines to meet the particular needs of a patient.
In our technological era; standing on the brink of the next industrial revolution, 3D printing is core to the evolution of how things are made. With the rise in technology developments and the new research done in this field, it is becoming essential to make the process of design, development, and production better, more reliable and efficient so that we can truly take advantage of the opportunities.
Briefly, by depositing material layer by layer, 3DP can fabricate objects of almost any shape and size on demand. Structures are obtained from a digital 3D design file that is converted into the machine instructions to additively build the design. 3D printing (3DP) is forecasted to be a highly revolutionary technology, with countless applications already in use, yet still, it is at the start of reaching its full potential.
Not least is 3D Printing technology changing the pharmaceutical industry. More recently, the technology has been applied to pharmaceuticals to manufacture medical devices and ‘printlets’, which is a term that we have coined to refer to 3D-printed solid oral dosage forms. Already in 2016, the first 3D-printed tablet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was commercialized for the treatment of epilepsy (Spritam1 by Aprecia Pharmaceuticals). The promise is that 3D printing could provide for custom printlets with the specific doses and compositions required for each and every patient.
Even though 3DP’s potential is this evident, in its best day, the pharmaceutical industry is conservative, preferring established manufacturing processes and formulation design to ensure product stability. However, by understanding and embracing the power of innovative technologies to support manufacturing processes, the industry could revolutionize the way medicines are designed for individual patients. In particular, the main benefits of 3DP lie in the production of small batches of medicines, each with tailored dosages, shapes, sizes and release characteristics. The manufacture of medicines in this way may finally lead to the concept of personalized medicines becoming a reality.
The numerous benefits that 3DP could provide across the drug development timeline and within the clinical practice are evident. However, it will come as no surprise that its integration will present its own challenges. Several regulatory requirements need to be overcome before the widespread integration of 3DP into practice. However, the numerous benefits that this technology can provide cannot be simply overlooked.
First of all, using 3DP as an alternative dispensing tool could alleviate conventional manufacturing concerns, which often require time- and resource-intensive processes. 3DP can produce printlets in a short time frame, which is an attractive concept for resource- or time-constrained settings.
In addition, conventionally, tablets are mass manufactured in a few discrete strengths, often based on the dose required for a suitable effect in the majority of the population. However, it is evident that one dose might not fit all; requirements can vary based on a patient’s genetic profile, disease state, and other factors. Instead, the medicines could be designed as a personalized printlet. Here’s a detailed overview of what 3D printlets can bring to the pharmaceutical table:
From containing a specific dose and/or drug for each patient to improving treatment efficacy while reducing the risk of adverse effects; printlets are revolutionary. In other words, whether it’s drugs in bottles, tablets, capsules, or tablets 3DP can be used to create simple and complex medicine with unique characteristics in high efficiency.
Indeed, this technology could radically change the production of pharmaceuticals away from mass manufacture to producing highly flexible and personalized dosage forms on-demand. Tailored formulations could benefit several applications, extending from drug development (preclinical studies and first-in-human (FIH) clinical trials) to frontline medical care (personalized medicine). It is now more important than ever for the pharmaceutical industry not to resist change, but to instead, understand and embrace the power of innovative technologies in manufacturing processes.