3D-printed pill forged at pharmacy could deliver drug cocktail in one go

20 Aug 2019

Evert Feunmayor with his 3D-printed pill. Image: Athlone Institute of Technology

To solve the headache of taking drug cocktails, Athlone-based researchers have found a way to combine a number of different pills into just one.

Despite the many marvels that modern medicine can bring, we can often be burdened with a having to take a number of pills, which can sometimes result in incorrect doses due to human error. This regular prescription of multiple medications – referred to as polypharmacy – is now considered one of the leading causes of non-compliance in patients.

In order to better manage this medication cocktail, researchers from the Athlone Institute of Technology’s Materials Research Institute have combined the fields of materials science, additive manufacturing and injection moulding to create a rather unique pill. Instead of taking a number of different pills in a given day, this personalised pill could combine the different medications into just one tablet.

Doctoral candidate Evert Fuenmayor and his supervisor Dr Ian Major have developed a blueprint for these customisable pills that could release the drugs in correct quantities over a prolonged period of time. Delivered either orally or sub-dermally implanted, the pill can be tailored to the specific needs of the patient as determined by their genetic profile.

“Using pharmacogenomics, doctors can use the patient’s genetic profile to predict drug efficacy and guide dosages,” Fuenmayor explained. “It essentially tells us how an individual will respond to medications.”

A major stumbling block

Research into the design began with the question of whether biocompatible, biodegradable polymers made using 3D printing would work as a drug delivery system. Three years later, the team perfected the design relying on specific polymers and printing parameters. Thereby, with a small change in the printer’s settings, they could make it delay release from a matter of hours to a few days.

Further testing saw the pair use lovastatin and hydrochlorothiazide used in the treatment of metabolic syndrome – a combination of cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, cholesterol and fluid retention – with promising results.

“Pharmacists will be able to make up the drug profile based on a patient’s unique needs there and then. With the right drug-loaded polymers in stock and a small 3D printer, they’d be able to print your tablets in the actual pharmacy itself,” Feunmayor explained.

“We’re still learning about how different people react to different drugs and dosages and therapy approaches, so while we’re not there just yet in terms of making this a reality, this is where medicine dispensing is going and what we’re hoping for.”

The biggest stumbling block for this research is to make it possible to speed up the process. Using this method, it would currently take four hours to print 30 tablets versus traditional, industrial machines that can make thousands of pills in an hour.

A paper on the research has been published to the International Journal of Pharmaceuticals.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic