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3D printed drugs to revolutionise medical treatment
Published on: Monday, February 06, 2023
By: Letter to the Editor, FMT, Abu Bakar Abdul Majeed
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Abu Bakar Abdul Majeed is the dean of UiTM’s faculty of pharmacy and an FMT reader.
In the not-too-distant future, one can print their own paracetamol at home or in a neighbourhood pharmacy, provided the appropriate 3D printer, actives and raw materials required to compound the medicine are available.

One only needs to consult the pharmacist on the proper way of using the medicine.

A company set up in the UK, FabRx Ltd, states on its website as having produced the world’s first pharmaceutical 3D printer for personalised medicines.

“Using our proprietary PrintletsTM technology, we can create a range of personalised medicines, composed of specific dosages, API (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients) combinations, shapes, sizes and release profiles”, it said.

Indeed, FabRx boasts of “M3DIMAKER, the world’s first pharmaceutical 3D printer for personalised medicines”.

Imagine, if this bioprinter became ubiquitous like the current 2D printer, you might print your own medication without having to visit the pharmacy or clinic, especially for refills.

Overall, 3D drug printing is expected to provide several benefits. For example, an option to select the shape and size of a tablet based on the patient’s preference, the ability to replace a cocktail of drugs into a single tablet thus enhancing compliance, the flexibility of controlling drug release by either slowing it down or accelerating to achieve the optimum effect of the drug, and the possibility of printing drugs in small quantities for an orphan disease, for example, a rare disease that affects a very small number of the population.

The last point is crucial as big pharma may find it unprofitable to produce drugs in small quantities to serve this sector.

In the big picture, 3D drug printing may save costs in the production and testing of drugs, compared with the huge and complex pharmaceutical manufacturing facility required now.

In terms of the impact on the environment, 3D drug printing is considered an eco-friendly way of production, although this point is debatable.

One potential hurdle is the regulatory quagmire. However, this is not unsurmountable.

In 2015, Aprecia Pharmaceuticals successfully obtained the approval of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its 3D-printed anti-epileptic, Spritam (levetiracetam).

The drug which simply disintegrates in the mouth with a sip of water is very useful for children and older people who have trouble swallowing.

Hence, if one could prove that a drug, whether produced through conventional or 3D printing manufacturing, fulfils these conditions, namely quality, safety, efficacy, then it should meet the regulatory requirement.

The successful registration of Spritam with FDA signals the completion of the proof of concept of 3D printed drugs.

As far as Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) is concerned, 3D printing has been adopted in teaching and research activities for many years.

According to Siti Azma Jusoh, senior lecturer at UiTM’s faculty of pharmacy and coordinator of MakerLab at UiTM Selangor, it would be better to start with 3D printing of nutraceuticals or supplements to test the waters before embarking on pharmaceuticals.

She said bioprinting is the next challenge. Bioprinting is the printing of bioengineered structures using biochemicals, biological materials, and living cells based on computer-aided design (CAD).

Hence, printing of body spare parts to replace defective organs, tissues and cells is becoming a reality, despite the tough challenges faced by 3D bio-prospectors.

UiTM’s faculty of pharmacy is working with a couple of international partners to venture into 3D drug printing research and development.

In the meantime, the curriculum content on the pharmaceutical industry’s process is being updated to include this aspect of drug manufacturing to sensitise students to the realities of this new discovery. They will also be trained for the future role of a pharmacist as an expert in 3D drug printing.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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