There remains only one company with 3D printed medicine that is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Aprecia became famous in 2015 when its drug Spritam crossed that regulatory hurdle. Now, the company is partnering with Battelle, a leading research non-profit, to expand its pharmaceutical 3D printing.
Aprecia established itself with the development of what it calls its ZipDose technology, a form of binder jetting that makes it possible to 3D print large batches of tablets. Like other forms of binder jetting on the market from ExOne and voxeljet, Aprecia’s process is founded on the original Zcorp binder jetting method developed out of MIT and now owned by 3D Systems.
The pharmaceutical company’s first FDA-approved drug made with ZipDose is Spritam an anti-seizure medication targeted at people with swallowing issues. The 3D printed tablets dissolve very quickly and can easily be swallowed. Aprecia licenses its technology to pharmaceutical partners in order to extend its product lines.
Battelle is a private nonprofit company named for Ohio industrialist Gordon Battelle, which was established in 1929 to perform research and development dedicated to metals and material science. Now, it works in a wide range of fields to perform R&D, as well as commercialize technology and manage the laboratories of customers. It has played an important role in a number of historical developments, including the technology behind Xerox, as well as the first nuclear fuel rods for nuclear reactors, metals related to the U.S. space program and the first jet engines, fuel for nuclear submarines, armor plating for tanks, photovoltaic cells for solar panels, the first reusable insulin injection pen and more.
It would seem, then, that Aprecia is in good company as far as R&D goes. Together, the partners will advance 3D printing equipment from clinical supply to commercial scale. This will include increasing throughput and efficiency across the board.
“Aprecia’s internal equipment design team and its current technology partners have established its global leadership in 3DP commercial scale manufacturing. The Aprecia leadership team is highly optimistic about combining its years of 3DP experience with the innovation and engineering talents of Battelle,” said Aprecia CEO, Chris Gilmore. “We believe this partnership will have long-term impact on Aprecia’s ability to solve medication design challenges that will offer significant benefits to patients across multiple therapeutic categories.”
Though Aprecia is remarkable in creating the first and, so far, only FDA-approved drug made with 3D printing, the field of pharmaceutical 3D printing has barely scratched the surface of what is possible. Outside of the development of more medications for people suffering from swallowing difficulties, it is hoped that 3D printed medicine will be tailored to individual patients based on such variables as their weight and height, metabolism, diet and medical history, among other things. Some envision the possibility of local drug dispensers that 3D print medications on demand. Beyond this, researchers are even exploring new methods of drug delivery via nanobots and other technologies.
In other words, the days of 3D printing medications are just beginning and, with Aprecia and Battelle working in tandem, the pace may be about to pick up.
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