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It’s called “a chemputer” and it can print medicines

Using a 3D printer and chemical inks, it will be possible to create made-to-measure pills for each and every patient

July 2014

3D Printer IMA Lab News Pharma

Why not use a 3D printer with chemical inks and software that doses them perfectly and creates tailor-made pills for every patient, preferably including in one dosage all the different pills they normally take in a day? This is the question Professor Lee Cronin, of Glasgow University, asked himself. Cronin directs a laboratory where more than 50 people work and which focuses mainly on making complex molecules.

The idea of creating downloadable chemistry, with the ultimate aim of allowing people to "print" their own pharmaceuticals at home, has already become an important line of research: it may not be able to bear fruit in the very near future, but undeniably it’s not a matter of science fiction.
In his laboratory, Cronin and his colleagues have built a rudimentary prototype of a chemical 3D printer, starting out from a modified 3D printer now programmed to create basic chemical reactions to produce different molecules.
The "inks" would be simple reagents, from which more complex molecules are formed. Cronin reminds us that nearly all drugs are made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, as well as readily available agents such as vegetable oils and paraffin. And that when he creates complex molecules in the traditional way with test tubes and flasks, he starts with a smaller number of simpler molecules. Therefore, he says, "with a printer it should be possible that with a relatively small number of inks you can make any organic molecule".

Up until now, traditional Pharma processes have meant manufacturing millions of pills in a factory and putting them in a package. Today, however, scientists and researchers are talking about how to combine all the medications/drugs needed by one patient in just one personalized pill. The medications needed by different patients will frequently be discovered through their genes, deactivating possible future sicknesses as well as current ones. According to Lee Cronin, pharmaceutical companies of the future will not sell drugs, but will sell chemical inks, blueprints and applications to be used when creating personalized pills through “chemputers”.
Professor Clive Roberts, from Nottingham University, agrees with Cronin: “3D printing of solid medicines at point-of-care offers personalized patient treatments beyond the scope of conventional mass manufacturing.” So, 3D printing could be used to optimize tablet designs, making drug delivery more efficient and effective.
It will be possible to construct a personalized pill where the patient’s individual needs determine the optimum combination of drugs, delivered at the optimum dose, at the optimum time, using the optimum release rates. All of which can be calculated and carried out by the patient’s doctor sitting in his own studio.
This technology will eventually revolutionize access to healthcare, but a whole series of important issues have yet to be resolved. For example: will it be lawful to use it? Will the government allow it?

The US FDA now publicly acknowledges 3D printing, and specifically its role as a method of manufacturing medical devices. Highlighting the positive attributes of 3D printing for cost-effectively producing patient-specific devices, the FDA also emphasizes the problematic issues it faces, especially in process verification and validation, for single item / small run production processes.