Three-dimensional (3D) printing—a type of additive manufacturing (AM)—has the potential to be the “next great step” in pharmaceutical manufacturing, enabling fabrication of specialty drugs and medical devices, said Emil Ciurczak, Doramaxx Consulting and CPhI expert panel member, in the 2016 CPhI Annual Industry Report. 3D printing could be used for personalized or unique dosage forms, more complex drug-release profiles, and printing living tissue, noted Ciurczak in the report.
Because 3D printing builds an object layer by layer, it could be used to print drug tablets with a personalized dosage, possibly combining multiple drugs into a single dose. Printing a barrier between APIs in a multilayer tablet could facilitate targeted and controlled drug release. Ciurczak proposed some applications where 3D printing could be of benefit. Orphan drugs, for example, may be limited because their market is too small to justify production costs, but a 3D printing process could minimize the cost. Another possible use is for making tablets to calibrate dissolution testers for United States Pharmacopeia testing. Ciurczak suggested that 3D printing could allow these tablets to be made in smaller lots, as needed, rather than once every few years, which could improve reproducibility. Products that would benefit from the lack of high compressive forces in 3D printing of tablets, such as abuse-proof tablets, may be another opportunity.