3D printed tablets have been around for a while now. In 2015, the epilepsy medication Spritam received its license as the fist medication to be approved for 3D printer manufacture, issued by the FDA, the American Food and Drug Administration. The advantage of printlets is thus:
Compared to conventional tablet presses, printed pills can be coated with a more porous surface, which helps them dissolve more quickly and without additional liquid intake. They can also be equipped with more active ingredients. This is particularly beneficial for patients who have difficulty swallowing and who have to take lots of different tablets.
MERCK GETS INTO 3D PRINTING
In 2020 the pharmaceutical group Merck joined forces with the EOS, the global market leader in 3D printing. The aim of this partnership is to transfer 3D printed tablets into an industrial application. First, the partners want to focus on producing GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) compliant tablets and investigational products for clinical studies. In the developed powder bed fusion procedure, materials in powder format are melted using a laser and then fused to each other, layer upon layer.
The advantages of the innovative manufacturing procedure are extensive. The medication will be able to be manufactured more flexibly in terms of its size, shape and profile for release of active agent or active agent release combination (termed polypills), and this should occur with an increasing drop in costs. This is because multiple medications can be printed easily on one 3D printer. It’s quite simple: the raw material just needs to be changed and the correct feed and print procedure must be selected. Effectiveness can be improved and side effects can be reduced.
In addition, medication production becomes more self-sufficient. Geopolitical risks and difficulties in the supply chain can be reduced and remote regions that are not well-connected in terms of their infrastructure thus have a way to produce the medication that they require.
THE BUZZWORD IS "PERSONALISED MEDICATION"
In addition, specialists expect that 3D printing will generate a breakthrough for personalised medicine in the pharmaceutical industry. In the future, pharmacies will be able to print individual medication types for patients themselves on-site while being able to take crucial factors such as a specific condition profile, age, sex, genetics or biochemical properties into account. This is an advantage for rare diseases or for special preparations for paediatric or geriatric applications. In the future, we will also be able to use this 3D technology to create prosthetics, implants and 3D bioprinted organs.
How are printed medications manufactured?
The manufacturing processes for 3D printed tablets and tablet press processes are, initially, very similar. Powder flowability is the crucial factor in the subsequent process. The dynamic flowability is a factor in creating high-quality 3D printed tablets, as it ensures the thickness defined for the even layers.
3D print tablet manufacturing employs powder recycling, which is a plus for sustainability. It is expected that unused powder is recycled and used for new 3D formulations. Investigations need to be carried out to see how far this type of recycling could affect the stability of the products.
It will probably be a while before patients can use this promising technology to print their tablets at home! The current fields of application are limited exclusively to highly specialised, individual medicine.