3D printing in London – and not only in London, but across the world – has been coming on in leaps and bounds, and today is far beyond the manufacture of simple parts or prototypes out of plastic. It is being used in a whole raft of different ways including the manufacture of PPE for healthcare workers battling Covid-19. However, while this is not something we are involved in at London 3D Printing, it has also got to the stage where it is being used to advance medicine, using what is called bioprinting.
Bioprinting can now produce some biological tissues and has already been used to grow human ears on the backs of mice. The ultimate aim is to be able to print complete human organs such as a heart or liver which can then be used for transplants without the need to wait for a human donor.
Meanwhile, another use for bioprinting that is emerging is the production of pharmaceutical drugs tailored to meet the specific requirements of an individual patient. In fact, this has already been done by, among others, American company Aprecia Pharmaceuticals which, in 2015, produced Spritam for the treatment of seizures and is the first, and at present only, 3D printed drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Bioprinting of drugs does something that cannot be achieved by traditional drug manufacturing, and that is the production of a drug tailored individually to a patient who needs a special dose or a composition of different drugs that can be produced in small quantities. It allows for the production of what has been called a “polypill” – one containing a mix of several different drugs that a patient needs, which has the effect of reducing the amount of pills that are required. In theory, this would also allow the production of a required combination of drugs wherever a suitable printer was available, such as in a hospital, or even a doctor’s surgery.
Bioprinting can also help with rare diseases, sometimes known as orphan diseases. These can cause problems for pharmaceutical companies because they require development, testing, and production of pills which will be taken only by a very small number of people and are thus extremely expensive to produce. 3D bioprinting is ideally suited to this because it is geared towards the production of pills in very small batches.
In 2017, Aprecia and Cycle Pharmaceuticals partnered to develop a ZipDose 3D printing technology that utilizes a fluid to bind together a multi-layered powder, resulting in pills that dissolve quickly with the addition of water, support high dose loading of up to 1,000 mg, and can be easily made to taste pleasant. This works in a similar way to a conveyor belt where a layer of drug in powder form is produced and goes under an inkjet which adds a fluid as a binding agent, and then the next layer is added, and so on, to produce a pill with the various drugs combined within it.
Another method which can be used is selective laser sintering which is where tiny particles of the drugs are fused together by a laser.
One problem with polypills is that some drugs should not be taken at the same time. However, a researcher at Nottingham University, Clive Roberts, has used 3D printing to produce a pill with multiple drugs within it which have a timed release inside the body which overcomes the issue of adverse drug interactions.
During the summer just passed, Hewlett Packard sent several of its’ D300e bioprinter to researchers in Europe and the US in order to aid the battle against Covid-19. This is an inkjet-type printer that prints small particles of tiny molecules and biomolecules and is being used by the Spanish National Research Council to test the way that a Covid-19 protein works with high risk people such as frontline healthcare workers and older adults.
This could help considerably with the treatment of Covid-19 because the pandemic has caused problems with the supply chain for many drugs and is having a greater impact on some countries as opposed to others. 3D printing in London and other areas could help with the production of drugs at a local level, thus doing away with the issues caused by a problematic global supply chain.