Realizing the Potential of Personalized Medicine with 3D Printing
The Human Genome Project inspired the possibility of personalized medicine that promised a future of treatment plans tailored to each individual patient based on their genetic profile, physiological makeup, and drug response.
Toward its completion in 2003, primary contributor to the Human Genome Project’s Craig Venter announced, “The dawn of the age of personalized medicine is upon us. We can now start to match the right drug to the right patient at the right dose from the start.”
Over 20 years later, the “one size fits all” standard form of care prevails.
There are some exceptions—human genome research has allowed some healthcare providers to use their patients’ genes to determine what medication will give them negative side effects and adjust treatment accordingly, especially in the case of HIV and cancer.
But in typical settings, healthcare providers have to navigate the gap between what their patients need and what is sold in standard doses at mass-market. Patients go through treatments that might not be the best for them, or expose them to side effects that an alternative medication wouldn’t give them.
The issue is exacerbated by a long history of pharmaceutical research data based on white males. The truth has been known for a long time: the same dose of the same active ingredient given to different patients will produce varied results.
“Currently, medications are developed especially for white adult men, which means that all women and children have an excessive prescription for their bodies. This fact underlines the importance of the advent of personalized medicines, as well as highlighting the individuality of each patient, since the error in the dosage of certain active ingredients can even lead to the malfunctioning of some treatments.” Fred Parietti, co-founder and CEO of Multiply Labs, a robotics technology company specializing in pharmaceutical services, told 3D Natives.
3D Printing is the missing link in personalized medicine
But change is coming. 3D printing technology is bringing us closer than ever to personalized pharmaceuticals. The technology can create medication with a variety of dosage, release profiles, pharmaceutical combinations, and shapes.
In December, Multiply Labs announced their partnership with WuXi STA, a leading pharmaceutical development company, to use their robotic system to manufacture individualized drugs:
“WuXi STA is a globally recognized leader in the formulation development and manufacturing, and Multiply Labs is excited to partner with them in bringing our pioneering robotic technology to the market. Our joint teams have collaborated at an unprecedented speed to develop and deploy this unique technology. Our goal is to enable precision medicine to scale and reach all patients who need it, and this breakthrough partnership is an exciting step toward that vision.”
They’re not the only organization making breakthroughs. Researchers at University College London have developed a new 3D printing technique, “volumetric 3D printing” that can produce personalized tablets in seven seconds.
3D printing company FabRx has developed its first 3D printer for personalized pharmaceuticals called M3DIMAKER, which can create polypills and apply Braille or moon signs for visually impaired patients.
There is currently one 3D printed pharmaceutical on the market, Spritam®, an anticonvulsant that is mass-produced at standard dosages. The 3D printing manufacturing process allows the medication to have large doses while maintaining a porous structure, making them easy to dissolve in the mouth.
The FDA has also approved 3D printed medical devices; OsteoFab® Patient-Specific Cranial Device and OsteoFab® Patient-Specific Facial Device, used as implants in the skull and face typically after trauma.
It’s increasingly common to find 3D printers in orthodontist and dental specialists’ offices, where they can make retainers, dentures, personalized crowns, and replacement teeth that mirror your exact natural teeth on the spot.
With 3D printers becoming increasingly more affordable, efficient, and small enough to fit in an office, do we need traditional mass-market means to bring personalized medicine to the masses? Or will pharmaceutical manufacturing move from large-scale facilities to compounding pharmacies, clinics, hospitals, doctors’ offices, or even at patients’ homes?
Dutch researchers explored this question in their study “Scenarios for 3D printing of personalized medicines.”
“There is a lot of economic incentive from the pharmaceutical industry to keep this sector intact. So they also will push back when you try to implement this,” one participant said.
Merck, Triastek, and GlaxoSmithKline are all currently in pharmaceutical 3D printing clinical trials.
However 3D printed pharmaceuticals come to the masses, they will revolutionize healthcare as we know it in more ways than one.