Over the last few years I’ve been following the rapidly innovative new technology that is 3D printing, as it transitions from a fascinating new artist medium and hobby/craft tool to more utilitarian functions as it potentially revolutionizes manufacture and distribution networks. With the smallest 3D printers now comparable in cost to a Playstation4 or XBox One, the technology is becoming poised for widespread use and innovation.
Which makes the news that the FDA approved the first 3D printed drug all the more interesting.
There is potential for an entirely new industry here, focused on personalized medication. Coming to mind is the person who misses a needed medication pass with some regularity because taking ten pills each day is an awful lot to swallow – and all of the corresponding “Refused” entries on her Med Administration Records. What if the pharmacist could place an order for those ten pills’ active ingredients to be manufactured in a short period as two consumable tablets, rather than ten separate pills? How much more accurate would the doses be if not mass-manufactured with additional preservatives added for medication shelf-life? How much more precise could medication dosage be if tablets weren’t scored to personalized doses? I recall all of the little chips that would shoot in one direction or another when trying to align and score a chalky table! The prospect of significantly reducing med errors on its own is promising, to say nothing of the extra time gained by staff in the field who can spend more time assisting an individual with valuable 1:1 time, and less time checking a dozen meds against blister packs against doctor’s orders against Med Administration Records.
There’s clearly a number of hurdles to pass. With the ease of manufacturing medications by 3D printing comes the potential for localized inaccuracy and tampering. Monitoring systems would be needed to assure meds ordered equal medication dispensed, as this new technology grows we’ll likely see accompanying legislation and oversight (a Walter White bill?!)
But altogether this new direction in 3D printed medication manufacture and delivery has some promising potential – we’re on the edge of a new frontier.