P&G Closer to Customizing Drug Tablets Thanks to 3D Printing

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American multinational Procter and Gamble (P&G) is breaking ground in personalized medicine. Committed to delivering consumer-centric creations, researchers at the company’s Singapore Innovation Center (SgIC) have teamed up with the National University of Singapore and the A*STAR – Agency for Science, Technology, and Research, to develop 3D printed customized drug tablets with specific dosages, release durations, and multiple drug combinations. In a new study published in Elsevier’s Journal of Controlled Release, the researchers show a simple, low-cost, and efficient 3D printing method for fabricating bespoke drug pills that are safe for consumption. In the future, this technology could enable broader access to personalized medicine and better treatments for patients, specifically designed for their particular physiology and needs.

For years, there has been growing interest in personalized medicine, which could help overcome the limitations of traditional “trial-and-error” treatment and offer more effective medications for individual patients. In fact, the impressive success of targeted therapies on cancer and several chronic medical conditions is a testament to the possibilities for this emerging healthcare approach. Individualized drug therapies could even disrupt current drug manufacturing protocols for large batch productions and could eventually reduce healthcare costs by addressing the underlying causes of medical problems immediately – in a preventive way.

A new study by P&G researchers shows how personalized medicine can leverage 3D printing. Image courtesy of P&G/National University of Singapore/A*STAR – Agency.

However, in the study, the research team suggests that for personalized medicine to be effective, the tailored pills need to release the drug doses at different body regions, each with varying pH conditions. This has been challenging in the past, even with 3D printing. P&G SgIC’s Group Head Jaspreet Singh Kochhar and Senior Technologist Jayant Khanolkar, along with the rest of the team and co-authors, explain that 3D printed drug tablets are often designed to involve different structures that change the release profile, dosage, combination of drugs, and tablet shape, for easy swallowing, for example. Nonetheless, fabricating them can be complex, intricate, time-consuming, and imprecise, often leading to tablets with weak mechanical properties.

To overcome these issues, the team devised a method to develop the drug tablets via 3D printed templates instead of printing them directly. Using an UP! Plus 2 3D printer, the researchers first created a template with a specific size and shape, which was then used to make a mold with a cavity of the complementary shape using a silicon-based organic polymer. In order to prepare the tablet, they dissolved the drug and excipient (Evonik’s Eudragit polymer for oral solid dosage forms) in isopropyl alcohol.

An outer coating was prepared in a similar way to complete the process. After printing the template with the specific size and shape and making the complementary silicon mold, white wax was melted and filled into the mold’s cavity. Finally, the drug tablet was obtained by assembling the matrix that consisted of the excipient and the drug with the impermeable and biodegradable coating. The simple design of the tablets delivered the constant and sustained release profile required. The method was tested on three different common, over-the-counter drugs: paracetamol (also known as acetaminophen to treat pain and fever), a nasal decongestant, and an antihistamine traditionally used to relieve allergy symptoms. The researchers also demonstrated the incorporation of multiple drugs in a single tablet.

Fabrication and design of fully customizable drug tablet with constant release profiles via 3D printing. Image courtesy of P&G/National University of Singapore/A*STAR – Agency.

Overall, this straightforward structure involved only a disc-shaped drug matrix coated with an impermeable layer on all sides except for one surface that is exposed to achieve the required release. The researchers determined that using 3D printed templates is the key to solving the challenges faced by current methods that use 3D printers to print the drug tablets directly, such as clogged nozzles due to the viscous drug solution. Instead, this new method is precise, reproducible, simple, and effective, claim the co-authors.

Aside from being an inexpensive and safe method of producing personalized medicines, each drug containing a section of the multidrug tablet can be customized and optimized separately, such as by changing excipient amounts, based on the expected pH conditions at different regions of the body. This customized release profile will enable the multidrug tablet to deliver the right dosages to the different parts of the body, as specified by the medical treatment designed by the physician. Since the method can be tailored to suit a drug’s physical and chemical properties, patients may only need to take one long-lasting multidrug tablet instead of multiple tablets several times a day. This could be quite a relief for people with multiple chronic conditions, cancer patients, and the elderly, who often take lots of medications to manage each disease.

In line with P&G’s initiatives to deliver better products to its 4.8 billion consumers worldwide, this promising innovation could be used extensively, potentially paving the way for personalized medicine. As soon as this new tailored technique goes from bench to bedside, patients are expected to benefit the most, circumventing the hassle of taking multiple different drugs for various illnesses and achieving medication compliance much easier and quicker.

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