As a concept, 3D printed food is obviously an interesting one. Not only because it’s difficult to wrap one’s head around what 3D printing food might even look like, but also to understand the actual point. That latter puzzle is actually what sent Melissa Snover, the inventor of the gummy 3D printing technology behind the Katjes Magic Candy Factory, to establish Rem3dy Health Group. Under the brands Nourished and Scripted, Snover is applying her food 3D printing technology to custom supplements and medicine.
In 2016, Snover launched Magic Candy Factory, which she described as the first food 3D printer that could be used in live consumer environments. The gummy 3D printing technology from Magic Candy Factory is still operating globally in locations like the Dubai Mall and Warner Bros. Movie World in Abu Dhabi. As educational and engaging as the candy 3D printing concept is, however, Snover says that she and her team knew early on that it didn’t take advantage of the true value of 3D printing. One particular niche where the value of 3D printing is really exhibited is in custom goods.
This led Snover to examine the potential for 3D printing in preventative health—such as nutrients, vitamins, minerals and superfoods—and curative health—that is, medicine.
“The idea that your clothing is more customized than the medicine you take is maddening, so I started to think about how [3D printing could] actually be used in a patient care environment,” Snover said. “We started the Scripted project with the view of looking at the different pain points within the current options available and where we could make the biggest value.”
She and her team surveyed about 10,000 different patient care providers, including pharmacists, nurses, nurse practitioners, doctors and pharmaceutical companies, determining the ways that the same technology used to 3D print food could be used to improve medical care. The first step toward fully personalized medication, according to Snover, is patient-specific dosing.
In hospitals, there are intravenous medications that with dosages that can be turned up or down depending on the needs of the patient, but this still leaves countless others that are still delivered orally. Scripted has developed its first prototype for doctors to deliver custom doses of medications based on the individual patient, their condition, the other supplemental treatments their using and their response to the overall treatment regimen.
Her company has a patent on a “hyper suspension of a hydrocolloid bond in pectin” that was originally developed for the Magic Candy Factory. This method of delivery, according to Snover, allows doctors to be very precise about their dosages. The added benefit is that the medicines may taste better and are easier to swallow than pills for small children and the elderly.
Scripted is currently working to find partners in the pharmacology industry to develop different applications for 3D printing for use in clinical trials. That is, beyond actually testing 3D printing medication for general use to include actual use of 3D printing in the clinical trial process for developing new medications.
Because new medications have to be tested in a variety of ways (different doses, different use cases) on a variety of populations (different age groups, etc.), Snover believes the 3D printing of medication can actually speed up the testing process by more quickly and efficiently customizing the medication for these different trials.
In the very long term, Snover hopes to incorporate such data as the individual’s DNA and microbiome to further customize pill dosing, while also combining multiple medications into a single chewable with the encapsulation controlling the exact rates at which the drugs are dispersed into the bloodstream throughout the course of the day. This would not only ease the pill taking process for your average patient but would be particularly useful for patients with dementia or those with huge drug regimens more easily remember to take their meds.
While Scripted is targeted at curative health, Nourished is aimed at improving the vitality of consumers before they get sick. The idea of 3D-printed supplements occurred to Snover due to her own vitamin routine. Traveling roughly 200 days a year and sleeping just four or five hours a night has caused Snover to increase her supplement count to include probiotics, ginger, turmeric and a number of other nutrients to maintain her lifestyle.
Over the past year, Nourished has performed nearly 20,000 ingredient tests and developed an entirely new patent-pending 3D printer that makes it possible to combine seven different active ingredients into a single chewable. Right now, U.K. customers can visit the Nourished site and fill out a brief questionnaire that delivers a “stack” of seven ingredients personalized to your specific lifestyle and needs.
Questions like “do you suffer from any of the following (depression, diabetes, hypertension…)?” and “how many units of alcohol do you drink per week?” lead to the formulation of supplement layers consisting of maca powder, ginseng, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and 24 other possible ingredients. Then, you subscribe to a monthly delivery of 28 “stacks” (seven-layered chewable supplements). While personalized subscription boxes are all the rage (see: “Beauty DNA”), this one as the added benefit of customers tailoring each monthly chewable based on the effects of the last month’s.
Snover pointed out that, thanks to the nature of 3D printing, every product is fabricated on-demand using the freshest ingredients available. This is unlike most mass-produced supplements that sit in the supply chain for as long as two years. Because the supplements are suspended in pectin, the consumer’s body also digests it like food, which Snover claims increases nutrient absorption by up to 70 percent compared to standard supplements. On-demand manufacturing likely means that Nourished’s stacks are actually fresher than organic supplements derived from natural sources, but encapsulated and sold through traditional supply chains, as well.
The technology for 3D printing supplements is a vast improvement over the printers used at Magic Candy Factory. Snover says that the new system can print 28 stacks in just over 10 minutes. The concept of custom supplements is also an appealing one, given the fact that Nourished has had over 3,000 customers in just 10 weeks of business.
Though Nourished supplements are already available to U.K. residents, Scripted will obviously take longer to get a product to market. To execute the vision, Snover’s previous venture, Katjes Magic Candy Factory, partnered with FabRx and, using a £660 thousand grant from Innovate U.K., completed human clinical trials at hospitals in Spain. Snover is currently working to get a second round of human clinical trials underway. The first stage of approval involves testing the medication to ensure that it produces the exact same dose every time. The next step will be to combine medications, which is a more complex process that is driving the company to seek pharmaceutical partners. With all of this in mind, it will likely take five to 10 years to get a 3D-printed medication to market, according go to Snover.
By then, we may see even more companies following in the paths of Rem3dy and FabRx, in which case, we are currently witnessing the very early days of a personalized medicine revolution.
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