Drug manufacturing is a long and complicated process which requires large capital intensive facilities. This often makes essential, frequently used drugs costly, and medicine for rare diseases almost completely unaffordable. Leroy Cronin, a professor of chemistry at University of Glasgow, UK, wanted to change this. He along with his research team have developed technology that has been able to 3D print drugs.
Cronin and team designed a kit called reactionware. This is a series of interconnected vessels and test tubes inside which chemical reactions can take place for manufacturing drugs. These vessels are printed with certain catalysts and components required for the reactions to occur. By adding widely available chemical compounds to this kit in the required order, the researchers were able to successfully carry out a series of chemical reactions and create a muscle relaxant called baclofen. By printing other reactionware kits specifically designed for carrying out reactions with other compounds, they were able to produce other medicines as well.
So, you 3D print out the reactionware kit required for the drug you need, add the starting chemical compounds, and get your medicine.
“I think this will change the way we design and discover drugs and also deploy them around the world,” said Cronin. “In remote places, in space, or really as a tool for non-chemists to get access to complex molecules that they may need for their own research.”
This does raise some safety and security concerns as well. “Democratising” synthesis of chemicals also means possibly giving access to people who may use this to create harmful drugs, or bio-weapons. Similar to CRISPR, a tool for editing genomes, this technology will also require considerable public debate and regulations before it can be considered for rolling out to the world.