New research reveals impact of 3D printing technology in medical devices and pharmaceutical sector

Pharmacy distribution is expected to be disrupted by 3D printing that simplifies drug customization, finds Frost & Sullivan’s TechVision team

3D printing technology is the ideal solution for the healthcare industry’s need for the efficient production of complex and personalized products. A large number of market majors have shown deep interest in adopting 3D printing for its ability to customize drugs, active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and medical devices, driving an era of personalized medicine. The field that is most likely to be disrupted by 3D printing is pharmacy distribution of drugs because of the ease of obtaining customized dosage quantities of medication.

“Using 3D-printed tissues for drug testing, clinical trials and toxicity testing will have a huge impact in the pharmaceutical sector, as they will help eliminate costly animal testing and use of synthetic tissues,” noted Frost & Sullivan TechVision Research Analyst Madhumitha Rangesa. “However, traditional, large-scale manufacturing is still more economical for mass production of drugs; 3D printing will be viable for small-volume production in orphan diseases.”

3D Printing for Healthcare Applications, recent research from Frost & Sullivan’s TechVision (Medical Devices & Imaging) Growth Partnership Service program, finds that there is a slow shift in pharma toward continuous manufacturing (CM), which can shrink production time to less than 10 days. When this practice is merged with 3D printing, pharma companies can develop various dosage forms for a specific, customized demographic. 3D printing will also bring about a change in the structure of the medication, making it easier to swallow or dissolve, and more attractive to children by printing them in any shape and size.

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Currently, the most researched and popular tools for the development of drugs/medication using 3D printing techniques are thermal inkjet printers, which can be used with powder-based medications. The tablets/pills manufactured can be customized to the patient’s requirements by structuring them layer by layer, with precise dosage of each ingredient, at a granular level. The use of 3D-printing technology in designing and prototyping will also tremendously reduce material wastage.

Despite all the progress being made, the pharma industry is facing challenges in securing approval from various government regulatory bodies for medical application of 3D printing. Furthermore, there are high chances of counterfeiting in the market.

“Current products being developed using 3D printing are largely in applications areas such as medical implants, surgical guides, prosthetics, orthotics, orthodontics and anatomical models for surgery,” noted Rangesa. “Furthermore, a wealth of opportunities is opening up in future healthcare applications areas such as creation of bone structures, airway tracheal splints and medicine.”

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