Wohlers Associates helps organizations take advantage of technologies and strategies that enhance the rapid product development and manufacturing process.
By Clare Scott
In August 2023, researchers at Texas A&M University announced that they would begin work on a project involving the 3D printing of medications for pediatric patients. The project is being funded by a grant of about $3 million from the National Institutes of Health.
Why is this significant? Pediatric health care is quite different from adult health care. Because of frequent size and weight changes, children require very specific medication dosages that may need to be adapted on a regular basis. These dosages also may not be available in standardized format. By using additive manufacturing, the researchers hope to be able to create medications with customized doses for children from infants to age 17.
3D-printed medication is not new, but it is a growing area with the potential to change the way drugs are administered, not just for children but for all ages. In August 2015, the FDA approved a 3D-printed drug called Spritam for use in patients with epilepsy. The drug was specifically designed to help patients who have difficulty swallowing; Spritam, because of its layer-by-layer construction, dissolves more quickly than other drugs.
So far, Spritam cannot be customized with patient-specific doses, but the hope is that AM can be used in the future to tailor doses to each individual patient. Another possible benefit from 3D printing medication is that it could be used to combine multiple drugs into one tablet. This could be especially useful for people with complex medication regimens, or for those with memory difficulties who have trouble remembering which pill to take at what time.
This is where 3D-printed medication could really get interesting. Ideally, pharmaceutical professionals could not only combine multiple drugs in one pill, but they could tune those pills so that certain drugs are released into the body at specific times – thus avoiding dangerous interactions or lapses from missed or delayed doses. The layer-by-layer nature of AM means that these pills could be designed to dissolve one layer at a time and at different rates – with each layer composed of a different drug.
These types of 3D-printed drugs won’t be appearing in pharmacies tomorrow, however. Regulatory approval takes several years, and more research is needed – but UK biotech company FabRx believes that personalized 3D-printed drugs could start to be prescribed within five to 10 years. Only time will tell, but the advances so far are promising.
The Texas A&M team has pledged that it will work to maintain the integrity and effectiveness of the drugs they are printing. Much of the research into additively manufactured medicine revolves around ensuring that printing the pills does not alter their composition. This is especially important when 3D printing pills in unconventional shapes, which some researchers have discussed doing to make the pills more appealing to children.
With the growing amount of research being dedicated to the additive manufacturing of medicine, and with cooperation from regulatory agencies, prescription drugs could look very different in the not-too-distant future.
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