Is 3D Printing The Next Big Thing In Pharma?

Posted by Tom Penrice on Wed,Feb 10, 2016 @ 06:00 PM

A Brief History of 3D Printing in the Medical Industry

Are 3D printed drugs the next big thing for the pharmaceutical industry? 3D printing has been making waves since 1984 when its inventor, Charles Hull, used the technology to make a 3D model from a picture, demonstrating that this technology would be a revolutionary way to test a product design before sinking big money into a large manufacturing program. The power of 3D printing limited innovators only to their imagination and took the world by storm in the intervening years- everything from fashion to firearms was transformed.

The medical industry is just one of the industries revolutionized by 3D printing. In 1999, 3D printing allowed scientist to implant a lab grown organ into patients undergoing urinary bladder augmentation. In the early 2000’s, researchers engineered a functioning kidney, giving scientists the ability to “print” organs and tissues. In 2009, a 3D printer was used to “print” the first blood vessel.

3D-Printing, the FDA, and the Pharma Industry

A few years later, headway is still being made in the medical industry. In early August 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first 3D- printed pill. SPRITAM LEVETIRACETAM, manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Aprecia, is used for reducing seizures in epileptics. The manufacturing of SPRITAM LEVETIRACETAM is done through the 3D printing process of layering the active and inactive ingredients layer by layer. The unique process of 3D printing is beneficial to its patients, as it can make each pill more potent than the traditional tableting machine can produce.

The FDA’s approval of SPRITAM LEVETIRACETAM means that Aprecia is the first major pharmaceutical company to “print” drugs, and they now own the rights to their successful technique. Aprecia’s ZipDoseâ Technology is a combination of science and 3D printing, protected by numerous patents through 2033.

The Future of 3D Printing in the Pharma Industry

No one is certain of how the concept of 3D printing will continue to change the pharmaceutical/ medical industry. But the concept of 3D pill printing brings the process closer to patients in need and may allow for hospitals to adjust doses to individual patients. In addition, the effective layer by layer printing concept in SPRITAM LEVETIRACETAM could be beneficial to other similar drugs where potency and precise dose release are important.

The FDA approval of SPRITAM LEVETIRACETAM is likely to lead to more novel 3D-printed therapies. So what’s next? Pharma companies in the UK are already experimenting with everything from pyramid to donut shaped pills, and many other companies are taking a look at the best way to structure pills for the patients who need them.

The above post is a condensed and edited summary of a Brief History of 3D printing , the Business Insider article: 3-D printing is revolutionizing the pharmaceutical industry and TheGuardians: The first 3D-printed pill opens up a world of downloaded medicine


Pennside Partners is a leading pharmaceutical and biotech consulting firm with over 25 years experience. They have offices in the United States, United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

Tags: FDA, Drug Development, 3D Printing Pharmaceuticals, 3D Printed Drugs

Receive Blog Posts by Email

Follow Us

Learn More About Our Services

Learn more about Pennside's pharma war games, strategy workshops, and competitive simulations for the pharma and biotech industries


Learn more about Pennside's pharma launch analog services, including pharma business development, pharma benchmarking, pharma best practices, pharma business analytics, business intelligence, ci, competitive intelligence, pharma launch planning, and other strategic consulting services for the pharmaceutical industry. 

Learn more about Pennside's  pharmaceutical and biotechnology consulting services spanning the following areas: competitive intelligence and monitoring, pipeline analysis and disease landscape consulting, marketing/sales/reimbursement support benchmarking, launch support and best practices benchmarking, customer facing and new commercial models, licensing and support consulting, strategy workshops, and outsourced business intelligence and fixed term contractors consulting for the pharma and biotech industries. 

Learn more about Pennside's Robust Pharma Competitive Intelligence and CI Monitoring Services. We provide superior pharma strategies based on actionable corporate intelligence. 

Learn more about our Oncology Drug Development Support Services: oncology launch analog service, oncology congress coverage service, post-launch intelligence and market monitoring, oncology business development and licensing and M&A support, and tumor/MOA clinical pipeline analysis services. Oncology launch adoption and market strategy services include: launch planning support, primary field intelligence and market insights, oncology competitive pipeline analysis, inlicensing reviews, oncology biomarker analysis, and benchmarking of oncology organizations. Oncology Congress Coverage services include: preparing a targeted congress schedule, attending and capturing key oncology conference information, and presenting oncology conference findings.

Contact Us or Request Information

Experience You Can Trust

Trusted pharma and biotech consulting experts for over 25 years