The Role of 3D Technology in Drug Development
Technology is rapidly advancing, with new and innovative products that make life both better and easier. The pharmaceutical field is no exception. The development of 3D printing technology is enhancing several aspects of the drug industry. Novel dosages, targeted therapies, and new medications are now available with 3D drug development technologies. BrandEssence Market Research states that the market value of 3D medications will reach $437 million by 2025.There are several important aspects of 3D technology you should know about.
What is 3D Technology?
Three-dimensional printing technology is affecting fields as diverse as aerospace and the fashion industry. You may also know this technology by other names such as layered manufacturing or rapid prototyping. This technology begins with two-dimensional printing and then builds an object by layering multiple 2D items. In the pharmaceutical industry, this additive technology uses a variety of ingredients in the layering process. Computer assisted design is instrumental in the creation of 3D drug development.
According to Pharmaceutical Technology, Charles Hull began the modern day 3D printing process. Hull is also the founder of the first commercial 3D printer that came out in 1988. In 2015 Spritam tablets became the first 3D drug to gain approval by the FDA. This is a medication that treats epilepsy, and specifically, seizures. This type of technology, in some ways, is not entirely new. In 1984 a small cup for eye wash became the first product resulting from 3D technology.
What are the specific Types of 3D Technology?
The International Journal of Drug Development and Research lists several types and methods of delivery using 3D printing systems. The following are a few specific types of printing technology available.
3D Powder Direct Printing –
This type includes a device that generates patterns. A computerized system creates several layers to design a 3D microstructure. It uses powder or pellets instead of filaments.
3D Fused Deposition –
After loading filaments with different medicines, you can manufacture individual pills through a melting process. When forcing the medicines through a heated nozzle, the resulting product comes together one layer at a time and eventually solidifies.
3D Stereolithographic Printing –
This is an additive process that uses an ultraviolet laser on resin. The UV laser shapes and designs the medication. The stereolithography process, (SLA), often creates oral dosages of between 2.5 percent and 5 percent concentration.
There are normally several stages of printing when using 3D technology.
- The first step is making a blueprint or a computer design of the product.
- The second step involves the software transferring the instructions to the printer.
- The third step is the actual processing or layering and building of the product.
- The fourth step is any post processing functions and packaging.
- The fifth step includes any testing and then distribution.
What are the Advantages of Using This Technology?
The following are several specific advantages of using 3D technology for drug development.
Producing Smaller Batches of Drugs –
You can produce small amounts of certain types of drugs instead of having to rely on mass production methods. This allows the production of very specific medications that large scale manufacturing either can’t or won’t produce.
Creating Tailored Medications –
Using 3D technology you can specifically produce particular sizes, shapes and dosage levels of personalized medications. Everything from porosity and water content to the uniformity of the mixed materials is specific to each batch. It’s also easier to tweak medications after production.
Assessing Drugs More Quickly –
Doctors and pharmacists can more quickly access new medications and then make necessary changes. Quick assessment and revising of drugs is not possible with traditional production and development methods.
Cost Effective –
When using 3D printing technology in almost industry you’ll save money by reducing the costs of materials. It is also relatively easy to use which can also make the process more inexpensive. With the 3D printing process, putting complex products together is as easy as more simple products.
Rapid Production –
The production and distribution of specific medications is now a much quicker process with 3D technology. You can produce only the amount of drugs that you know you’ll currently need and use. Printers using 3D technology are more compact and smaller than traditional manufacturing lines. They are set up and put into practice at a much faster rate. The process is basically print-on-demand technology for the drug industry.
What are the Disadvantages?
For all the incredible benefits you can gain from using this technology, there are some drawbacks.
Maintaining Quality of Raw Materials –
Implementing and then maintaining production control strategies isn’t always easy. Problems such as clogs in print heads, varying thicknesses in tablets, and variations in the flow of raw materials throughout the printing process can occur. Quality defects that occur during the printing process may also include warping, shifting, and the collapse of the final product.
Product Liability –
The reproduction of fake medications, or drug “knock-offs” is a growing problem in the pharmaceutical industry. Hackers that gain access to a drug’s blueprint can mass produce the medication. They may also make unsafe modifications to the drug to make it more marketable. It’s necessary for drug companies to certify any blueprints they use in order to avoid liability issues.
Safety Issues –
Drugs manufactured in a traditional manner have an enormous amount of oversight. The FDA and other government oversight organizations can’t regulate and monitor every single printing operation. There is also a concern regarding defective printers Currently there are several regulatory challenges that need addressing.
What Does the Future Hold for 3D Technology?
There are many ways that 3D printing technology will change the future of the pharmaceutical industry. These changes will involve development, manufacturing, and distribution. Finding ways to overcome the drawbacks that are still hindering the technology is an area that should receive a lot of attention.
This exciting technology, however, will continue to expand and will undoubtedly find ways to develop and produce new types of designer drugs. A few of the cutting-edge technologies that will continue to develop and advance include the following:
Digitally Time-Released Medications –
Pills with several different types of release mechanisms will continue to develop.
Increased Personalization –
Personalization of medication will continue to advance. Personalization will not only include factors such as the age and weight of the patient, but more complex factors such as organ function, metabolic function, and even personal flavor and color preferences.
On Demand Manufacturing –
Development and manufacturing of medications may occur regularly onsite at hospitals and other healthcare facilities. This type of printing may eventually take place in war zones, space stations, and at small, remote medical practices.
Cloud Based Connections –
When 3D printers are connecting to cloud based sources, physicians can access vital health information in real time while creating designer drugs.
Those working in drug development will need to focus on a variety of specific tasks in order to optimize the use of 3D printing technology. A few of those include improving consistency when producing personalized medications, improving device performance in order to increase versatility, and reducing clogging in printer heads. Delivering consistencies that matches large-scale bulk productions is also necessary. While meeting these challenges and making new advancements, 3D printing technology will likely become an indispensable tool in future drug development and production.
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