The IFTF Blog
3-D Pharmaceutical Printing Outside the U.S.
The Guardian has a great interview with a Scottish professor named Lee Cronin who is working on developing a system to create pharmaceuticals through 3-d printing. Which is to say that he wants to make downloading and manufacturing medicine as simple as printing a web page.
After noting the barriers--of which there are many--Cronin offers up this big vision:
"Imagine your printer like a refrigerator that is full of all the ingredients you might require to make any dish in Jamie Oliver's new book," Cronin says. "Jamie has made all those recipes in his own kitchen and validated them. If you apply that idea to making drugs, you have all your ingredients and you follow a recipe that a drug company gives you. They will have validated that recipe in their lab. And when you have downloaded it and enabled the printer to read the software it will work. The value is in the recipe, not in the manufacture. It is an app, essentially."
What would this mean? Well for a start it would potentially democratise complex chemistry, and allow drugs not only to be distributed anywhere in the world but created at the point of need. It could reverse the trend, Cronin suggests, for ineffective counterfeit drugs (often anti-malarials or anti-retrovirals) that have flooded some markets in the developing world, by offering a cheap medicine-making platform that could validate a drug made according to the pharmaceutical company's "software". Crucially, it would potentially enable a greater range of drugs to be produced. "There are loads of drugs out there that aren't available," Cronin says, "because the population that needs them is not big enough, or not rich enough. This model changes that economy of scale; it could makes any drug cost effective."
This gives me an excuse to highlight one of my favorite artifacts from the future that our health team has developed in recent years--that of a 3-d printer, housed in spare parts from an old arcade game, printing out personalized medicine in a pharmacy in Latin America.
The setting here is critical. One of the things I've heard said about 3-d printing is that it is, in effect, a solution without a problem. Or, put differently, it would be fun to print medicine in my house, but I'm certainly not going to spend a couple thousand dollars on something that would be really cool but just marginally more convenient.
By contrast, the advantages of 3-d printing in places with limited transportation, manufacturing and distribution networks are enormous. That's the insight, for example, behind the Coke Freestyle, an increasingly common coke machine that can mix more than 100 different flavors of soda, despite being no bigger than a traditional vending machine. In effect, Coke decided that rather than spend a lot of money running trucks full of bottles between places and wait for transportation to get better, they could instead just find a way to produce soda at much smaller scales.
And that's the idea here--that by rethinking production, a lot of various but critical barriers, such as transportation and distribution networks, become far less imposing.