This article by Stephanie Sutton was published on the Medicine Maker forum 09/25/2015
Although our September cover feature focused on 3D printing, it is not the only printing technique that is being investigated in pharma applications; inkjet printing could also have a place in the manufacture of tomorrow’s medicines. Inkjet printing technology has the ability to deposit very precise amounts of drugs and excipients onto suitable substrates and can be used to produce controlled release formulations. Each deposit of drug could have a different release profile, depending on the needs of the patient.
Niklas Sandler, Professor of Pharmaceutics at Abo Akademi University in Finland, has conducted extensive research about printable formulations, from oral film formulations, to enhancing poorly soluble drugs, to printing biomolecules. We spoke to Sandler to find out more.
How did you get interested in printing drugs?
I was fascinated by printing because of its ability to deposit accurate and minute amounts of material. I thought that if we could use a similar technique in drug manufacturing, then perhaps we could use it for personalized dosing and for printing drugs on demand. There is so much potential in this area, particularly when you think about all the different materials that can be printed, and their endless combinations.
What does your research group focus on?
We’re exploring many different types of printing technologies, from flexographic printing to 3D printing – and we’ve been involved in several collaborations with pharma companies. There is a lot of industry interest in printing, but I think that each technique has its own place and function. Inkjet printing can used for precise dosing, and 3D printing can be used for accurate design, and is starting to make its mark on medical devices in particular.
One project of ours is depositing anti-bacterial agents onto the surface of bone implants – infection following implant surgery is a big problem in the medical world.
What are the most exciting developments in the field?
One exciting development is combining printing and nanotechnology for more controlled drug delivery. For example, it’s possible to use printing to deposit nanoparticles. You can deposit nanostructured layers and nanosuspensions too, plus you can deposit different drugs in different areas to create a multifunctional drug.
What are the benefits over producing drugs in a traditional way?
Pharma companies could use printing to manufacture ordinary drugs dose by dose, but the industry isn’t really geared for that kind of production. I think the real potential is in having printers at home that allow patients to print some of their own medications. This would be invaluable for those who live far from a pharmacy, or who find it difficult to leave their home. Obviously, there would need to be quality control, perhaps by a mobile system.
For the manufacturer, printing offers a high degree of control and accuracy. For example, it can be used to design delivery systems with a very specific geometry, or implants for the ear that fit better. There is also a trend in the industry to move towards continuous processing. Printing technologies – either inkjet or 3D – could work well for continuous manufacture. They also fit in nicely with quality control systems because you can use modern sensors to track each deposition.
And how far is this technology from being more widely used?
There are lots of developments in the research world but relatively little is happening in industry. Printing has the potential to be a disruptive technology, but there are many questions before it can be made available outside of small clinics. For a start, you wouldn’t be able to use the same type of printer for every product. In addition, in inkjet printing the drug will need to be in a liquid form, but the drug may not be stable for very long. There are lots of challenges ahead of us – but many opportunities too.