Researchers at the University of Michigan have devised a way to print precise, pure doses of drugs onto a dissolvable strip, microneedle patch or dosing device, according to a study published in Nature Communications.
The technology could one day allow pharmacies and hospitals to print custom-dosed medications for patients and boost drug development among researchers, the team said.
“A doctor or pharmacist can choose any number of medications, which the machine would combine into a single dose,” lead researcher Max Shtein said in prepared remarks. “The machine could be sitting in the back of the pharmacy or even in a clinic.”
The team used organic vapor jet printing, a technique borrowed from the manufacturing of electronics. The technology allows for researchers to print very fine crystalline structures over a large surface area, helping the medications to dissolve more easily.
This could be useful for the potential new medications that are shelved today because they don’t dissolve properly when administered with pills or capsules, the team noted.
“Pharma companies have libraries of millions of compounds to evaluate, and one of the first tests is solubility,” Shtein said. “About half of new compounds fail this test and are ruled out. Organic vapor jet printing could make some of them more soluble, putting them back into the pipeline.”
The printing process starts with researchers heating up the active pharmaceutical ingredient and evaporating it. The drug combines with a stream of heated, inert gas and travels through a nozzle to a cooled surface.
There, the drug condenses and sticks to the surface in a thin, crystalline film.
“Organic vapor jet printing may be useful for a variety of drug delivery applications for the safe and effective delivery of therapeutic agents to target tissues and organs,” co-author Geeta Mehta added.
The team pointed out that most compounds need to be dissolved in a chemical solvent before they’re tested in cells. This printing technique allows researchers to finely tune the printed medications to dissolve easily a water-based medium, like the one used to culture cells.
“When researchers use solvents to dissolve drugs during the testing process, they’re applying those drugs in a way that’s different from how they would be used in people, and that makes the results less useful,” co-author Anna Schwendeman said. “Organic vapor jet printing could make those tests much more predictive, not to mention simpler.”
The team added that printing mass-market drugs is not right on the horizon, but that drug characterization and testing could be soon implemented internally in pharmaceutical companies.
“One of the major challenges facing pharmaceutical companies is speed to clinical testing in humans,” co-author Gregory Amidon added. “This technology offers up a new approach to accelerate the evaluation of new medicines.”