Feb 29, 2016 | By Alec

Though medical 3D printing is largely focused on implants, surgical models and prosthetics, there is another multi-billion medical industry that will greatly benefit from 3D printing: the pharmaceutical. While drugs are being developed at a high pace, there’s one universal problem in that sector that 3D printing might be able to solve: how do you achieve sufficient systemic exposure to a certain drug to ensure specific therapeutic results are achieved? As people, their conditions and their organs come in all shapes and sizes, a certain pill size might work a lot better for patient A than for patient B. TNO scientist Steven Erpelinck, from the Predictive Health Technologies department, is therefore working on personalized 3D printed oral drugs that feature the exact necessary dosage for every patient.

TNO, of course, is the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, an independent research institute. They also happen to be 3D printing experts, with a specific department for the development of 3D printing, materials and next-gen equipment. They are also a prominent partner of many international research projects on 3D printing. Just last week, they completed the Hyproline, the world’s first mass production metal 3D printing platform.

But they have numerous projects ongoing at the same time, with one on Personalized Health being headed by Steven Erpelinck. A Dutch Biotechnology expert with a long academic career, he has also co-authored numerous articles on Leukemia patients. Back in 2007, he switched to pharmacy and joined TNO as Senior Business Developer at the institute’s Predictive Health Technologies department. Over the last two years, he has been focusing on microdosing of medicine, and has been extensively exploring what 3D printing can do for personalized medicine.

As he explains, 3D printing of drugs offer a lot of opportunities – and the first 3D printed oral dosage form has already been FDA-approved. “3D printed oral dosage forms (ODFs) have shown added value in the field of patient compliance especially within different age groups like children and elderly. 3D printing of ODFs has the potential to manufacture tablets for the individual patient at the right time and place offering point of care solutions in a personalized medicine setting,” he argues. “[It] offers enormous freedom of design with respect to factors such as API dosage, API distribution within an ODF, excipient use and distribution, as well as tablet structure and shape (e.g. micro-channels).”

But at the same time, it’s still a field riddled with challenges. “This is especially the case when using the 3D printing technology with highly potent compounds (HPAPI),” he argues. More than 25% of all pharmaceutical drugs contain HPAIs, which require specific safety measures to check the quality, stability and precision of the dosing. “And it is expected that the annual market growth for HPAPI drugs will be 10% till 2018. Given this growth and the interest in personalized medicine it is expected that more and more HPAPI drugs will be manufactured via 3D printing,” he says.

This is where his ongoing research project is focusing on, and they have extensively relied on their knowledge of food 3D printing to do so. As you might remember, TNO has spent years working on food 3D printing, for instance for the elderly. Those successes with making different foods 3D printable led to the realization that many food products contain many of the same ingredients (or very similar ingredients) as many pharmaceuticals. “It has lead to an expansion of TNO’s activities to the area of pharma. As all main 3D printing technologies (FDM, SLS, PBP, IJP, SLA) are available within TNO, a wide range of printing research is possible,” they say.

To find out more about the exact workings of 3D printed drugs, they are also studying the behavior of these 3D printed ODFs in custom in-vitro models, such as InTESTine. “The intestinal permeability at different sites of the GI tract (duodenum, jejunum, ileum and even colon) will be determined via intestinal segments. These ex-vivo experiments represent the human gut physiology and has shown to be very predictive investigating the oral bio-availability in humans,” they add. Of course, 3D printed prescriptions are still far from being realized, and would necessitate a complete overhaul in how pharmaceuticals will be made. Will there be a 3D printer in every pharmacy? But this is a first towards safer, more effective and cost-effective healthcare.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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