3D printing your medicine

3D printing is poised to bring a new era of medication delivery to patients. Vivek Gupta, Assistant Professor of industrial pharmacy at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss how this will change the future of medicine.


3D printing your medicine.

3D printing is poised to bring a new era of medication delivery to patients.

Vivek Gupta, an assistant professor of Industrial Pharmacy at St. John's University in Queens, New York, joins us to discuss how this will change the future of medicine.

So, what do we have in front of us?

What do we got here?

Thanks for having me on the show, Hari.

What we have in front of us is different types of tablets we have printed in-house in our lab at St. John's University.

The way 3D printing works is that you can basically print any kind of tablet, any kind of device, any kind of -- basically anything that you could use to deliver the medicine into the patient in-house.

What implications we are looking for this is a pharmacist in a pharmacy at any of the pharmacy in New York or wherever in the world would be able to print these medicines on demand if a patient requires a different dosage form or different form of the medicine that is not available commercially, that companies do not provide.

A very good example for that would be for elderly people, for elderly patients, for pediatric patients, or children, where a lot of the drugs, and it's a known fact, are not available in the strengths, in their dosage forms, in their design that they require to be able to deliver that medicine effectively.

So, you can choose to develop any of these dosage forms and basically print it for them.

So, this would be something, instead of basically waiting for the manufacturer to ship this specific type of pill to you, this could be printed either at the hospital or maybe even at the corner pharmacy?

This could be, yes.

The major advantage of this would be the word -- branch of pharmacy which is known as extemporaneous compounding.

In extemporaneous compounding, pharmacists -- I am a pharmacist as well -- we develop, we deliver, we create dosage forms which are otherwise not available commercially or which are available commercially, but the patient, let's say an elderly patient, or a kid, are not able to take that medicine.

What happens right now, the formulas for those dosage forms, for those tablets, those capsules, are given by companies, are developed by some of the scientists, and include a lot of different compounds, different chemicals, different polymers, which serve a lot of different functions.

With these dosage forms, we don't -- we bypass the need for all those different excipients, different compounds that serve different things, but based on the machine, based on physical property of the polymer we're using and the drug, we can modify how this particular tablet behaves when it goes inside the body.

So, a normal printer works on shooting ink onto paper.

This is essentially substituting ink with different chemicals that you want printed, right, in three dimensions instead of two.

So, wouldn't you need the underlying, sort of the drug that's in the drug, to be able to print those out?

So, would pharma companies give you those kind of ingredients?

So, right now, it's at a very nascent stage.

The kind of material we are using is commercially available.

All we're using is modern drugs that kind of mimic different types of drugs.

So, you could say we go by something known as biopharmaceutical classification system where we see if a drug is super soluble in water, if it doesn't dissolve in water, if it doesn't need a solution.

Based on that, we choose different types of polymers, and a lot of companies are developing these polymers which could be used for 3D printing.

The way you do it is you use a machine and equipment known as hot melt extruder in which, using an extruder, you can put the drug, whatever you want to use, into that polymer, create a filament that would look exactly like a typical PVA filament that you would run on a 3D printer, and you could print the tablet.

What are the economic consequences if this takes off?

Does it make drugs more accessible and less expensive?

I would say this would make drugs -- this would make the therapy more patient-compliant, and more patients would be willing to adhere to the therapy which they are provided, and over time, I don't know what -- It's really -- Like I said, it's really nascent.

There would be another four, five years where, before this actually becomes available, there would be chances that it could be used to deliver things which are currently given by injection, for example, insulin.

Insulin is the biggest -- When you talk about an injection and people having needle phobia, you think about insulin.

People who have diabetes, they don't want to poke themselves once a day, or God knows how many times a day.

This could be something that would help us create, because we are relieving, we are removing the need for those alien excipients in making a tablet, in making a capsule.

Who knows? We would be able to develop a dosage form where we could put insulin in the tablet and get away from needles.

That would be a milestone in achieving patient compliance.

So, how far away are we from seeing the idea of 3D printed pills out in the marketplace?

So, in terms of being able to do this in a corner pharmacy, probably a few years, maybe.

I would say five-ish years.


Vivek Gupta, Assistant Professor of Industrial Pharmacy at St. John's University, thanks for joining us.

Thank you so much.