3D printing technology is on the rise, emerging as an entirely new method of manufacturing. It has the potential to bring advanced technology to everyone, and at a significantly lower price due to the relatively inexpensive price of manufacturing via 3D printing. The pharmaceuticals industry is one of many industries that will be greatly aided by advances in 3D printing. Medicine is changing as well, with personalized medicines being one of the foremost trends in pharmaceutical development. These drugs are specifically related to treat unique symptoms for patients, and are custom-made to suit the needs of the patient. While the mass manufacturing of pharmaceuticals will remain essential, 3D printing can be an extremely efficient way to produce personalized medicines and more. Let's take a look at some specific ways of how 3D printing is transforming the pharmaceutical world. 

Personalized Medication

The potential pharmaceutical applications of 3D printing has been discussed for several years leading up to the FDA’s approval of the first prescription medication in March of 2016. One of the most significant benefits of 3D printing in pharmaceuticals was the fact that it could enable manufacturers to create specific dosages for each patient. This would be particularly helpful for children, since they are often unable to take existing medications due to the high dosage. 3D printing has the capability to produce pills with appropriate dosages for children, and in a form that’s much more kid friendly. It would also be a valuable means of manufacturing important medications in developing countries, where conventionally-made drugs are often difficult to obtain or completely inaccessible. Blueprints of the composition of a medication could be easily distributed and used by people around the world to manufacture medications. The need for personalized medicines as well as the need for a more inexpensive method of manufacturing pharmaceuticals are both driving innovation in 3D printing.

No two patients are alike, so they’ll often need a modified version of a medication specifically formulated to treat their symptoms based on their own unique needs. Some might need a product that takes effect quickly and all at once, while others might benefit more from one that is gradually released throughout the day. Custom-made medications manufactured by 3D printing would allow for physicians to make much more precise prescriptions for their patients, decreasing or eliminating the need for change the dosage or switch drugs. A common problem encountered in pharmaceuticals is that the product isn’t very soluble. 3D printing could produce drugs in a crystalline form, which is much more soluble than many other forms. The technology works by printing each layer of a product until it forms a shape. In some cases; a powder is spread in a thin layer, and then liquid is added. The two substances bond with one another to form a single porous layer. The process is repeated as many times as necessary to build the product. Polymers are another material that could be of great value to the manufacture of medications through 3D printing. The shape and surface area of a capsule can actually be an influential factor in determining the efficiency of a medication. Some oddly shaped pills are often difficult to manufacture on a large scale, but they can be 3D printed much more easily.

3D Printed Medication

In March 2016, Aprecia Pharmaceuticals announced that their product SPRITAM was the first 3D printed medication to earn FDA approval. SPRITAM treats symptoms of epilepsy like partial onset seizures, myoclonic seizures, and partially generalized tonic-clonic seizures. Aprecia developed the drug using their own ZipDose technology, which combines 3D printing and formulation science to manufacture drugs that disintegrate within a few seconds after consumption. The ZipDose program was designed to provide a solid medication that was also easy to take, administer, and accurately prescribe to a patient. SPRITAM is just the first of many pharmaceutical products that are manufactured via 3D printing technology. 3D printing can produce a multitude of different active pharmaceutical ingredients, allowing it to be applied to a wide variety of different medications.

On-Demand Pharmaceutical Manufacturing

Advances in 3D printing technology could allow for the on-demand manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, allowing for a pharmacy to quickly produce a medication based on demand. It is even possible that a patient could utilize a 3D printer at home to print their drugs as they need them. Customization is important not only because of the potential to create different dosages and release timelines for consumers, but it could also allow them to personalize the drug to fit their own tastes. For example, they could manufacture a capsule with an appealing color or taste, which would make it easier for them to adhere to the consumption schedule prescribed by their doctor. The pharmaceutical industry hit the $1 trillion spending mark for the first time in 2014. Statistics indicate that this figure could continue to rise to as high as $1.2 trillion in the next couple of years. The traditional production and distribution chain in pharmaceuticals consists of three stages. First is the manufacture of the medicine itself. Then it is distributed to the points of dispersing. Lastly, the point of dispensing distributes the product to the patients using the medication. 3D printing could change all that by eliminating the need for multiple phases of distribution, and allowing for the consumer to obtain the medication in a much shorter length of time. Personalized medicines are going to be an increasingly relevant and applicable sector of the pharmaceutical industry. The promising potential of 3D printing provides patients around the world with the hope of a treatment specifically designed to suit their unique needs.