3D Printing Growth Predictions and Its Impact on the Pharmaceutical Industry
The 3D printing industry has been growing over time, making great strides. Besides the old plastic filaments, you can now use a wide range of materials in your 3D printing projects, including concrete, metal, and even chocolate.
What Is 3D Printing of Pharmaceuticals?
Scientists have figured out how to use special hydrogels to create printing material for patients’ tablets and medications. They feed the specialty filaments into the machine, which then prints the tablets or pills.
The process takes some time, even for just a couple of pills, but it is a tremendous advancement in technology. The ability to print 3D medicine is something scientists have been working toward for some time now.
3D Printing of Pharmaceuticals: Why It Matters
At first glance, it may seem pointless to use a 3D printer for a tablet or two. After all, more traditional methods can produce them en masse much faster. However, there are some definite benefits.
First, this method of printing is not for making massive amounts of pills. Rather, it provides exact measurements of a medication in a single tablet. With personalized medicine becoming more common, doctors treat people according to their individual needs, which often means they need specific medications in specific doses. And, for children or the elderly, some medications require very carefully measured doses.
Previously, patients may have crushed and measured their medication or tried to split their pills to help ensure they were taking the correct amount. This was particularly true when parents gave children adult-dosage medication.
Overall, this can be difficult to ensure that people ingest the right amount of the active ingredient, and some medication can get lost in the process. At best, the doses will vary each time, and at worst, a person may take too much or too little medication.
To ensure the exact dosage is being taken, the printer creates a tablet that has what you need, no matter how odd the dosage. This also works well for those who frequently need to adjust their drug dosage based on how their blood tests come back.
The 3D printing of pharmaceuticals eliminates the hassle of this by providing exactly what the patient requires.
3D Printing Extended-Release Theophylline Tablets
One of the early successes in this arena was the printing of a theophylline tablet. The scientists carefully investigated various materials until they settled on hydroxypropyl methylcellulose hydrogels, which would extrude correctly but form a solid tablet once printed. It also had minute pores, which could encapsulate the theophylline clusters and helped ensure it would release over 12 hours.
The printing of this tablet was a giant success, as the printer whipped out a pill that was tested and proven to function as intended. The scientists even tried using different amounts of medication in the pills, based on a specific medicine concentration to a hydrogel. They printed tablets with 75, 100, and 125 mg.
This was just one example of how well a 3D printer can work for those looking to give more precise dosages, and there’s no doubt that many will adopt this method of producing pharmaceuticals in the future.
However, it’s important to note the launch of the FabRx 3D printer, M3DIMAKER, in 2020. It produces “Printlets” — simple pills that contain a tailored amount of medicine. In some cases, it’s even possible to create a polypill, which combines multiple medications into one tablet for the patient to take. This drastically simplifies the chore of taking medication for those who need to ingest an assortment of meds.
This machine is for use by a doctor, pharmacist, or even the patient. It works rapidly, providing 38 Printlets in just eight minutes, making it quite useful for anyone. Scientists originally developed it for a hospital where children with maple syrup urine disease were being treated.
The medication for this disease is isoleucine, and its preparation highly depends on blood levels. Since there were no commercially available options, doctors had to create their own capsules — until FabRx came along. This invention enabled them to print chewable tablets in various flavors and doses, making it very easy for kids to take the pills.
Overall, it was a big success, and the machine continued to gain popularity. Some even developed pills with moon patterns and Braille on the surface to help those with visual impairment note when to take them. Customizations like this are another reason to consider using 3D-printed tablets.
How 3D Printing Has Grown in the Medical Industry
Over the years, 3D printing has really taken off in the medical industry. While pharmaceuticals are now a big deal, they were not always the main attraction and are still a tiny part of what the printers do for the industry.
Industry leaders expect the 3D printing medical device market will hit $4.5 billion globally by 2026. The vast majority of this will come from surgical centers, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, and academic institutions. These establishments will use surgical guides, surgical instruments, prosthetics, implants, and tissue engineering products that are all 3D printed.
With so many advancements in the 3D printing of pharmaceuticals, physicians can now practice personalized medicine and ensure they provide exactly what patients need. Even if the doctor can’t print out the medications, the pharmacy will be able to once 3D printers for medications become more commonplace.
It’s not surprising that some big changes are coming to the pharmaceutical industry. Personalized medicine is making medications more complicated — but far more effective. This requires a whole new way of managing and making medications, and 3D printing of pharmaceuticals seems to be the way to go. We can only wait and see how much further they’re able to take this amazing technology.