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Cronin makes case for 3D printing drug in New York today

Professor Lee Cronin will lead a conference in New York today that aims to show the pharmaceutical industry that 3D printing is the future it needs to embrace right now.

Cronin has an expansive vision of producing drugs outside the traditional laboratory environment, which could save the drug production companies massive amounts of money in the long run. His forward-thinking vision of cheap robotics, the chemical internet and 3D printing could revolutionise the industry, if it has the stomach to embrace change.

Additive manufacturing has slowly won over a number of difficult industries, including the aviation industry. Plane manufacturers tend to expect perfection, lives depend on the product after all. This level of social proof is slowly converting the masses, but the pharmaceutical industry has given the idea a lukewarm reception so far.


Just one drug is 3D printed

Right now only the anti-seizure medication Spritam (levetiracetam), is commercially produced with a 3D printer. Cronin is the Regius Chair of Chemistry at the University of Glasgow and he is convinced that the whole industry could simplify the production process, improve the purity of the chemical make-up and automate the whole manufacturing process.

He believes it’s a simple way to streamline the pharmaceutical industry and take drug production out of the traditional lab.

The idea is to use configurable robotics to control the assembly of the reactionware and then co-ordinate the chemical reactions,” he said. “In this way, we can use very simple robotic formats for the chemical synthesis.

Initial investment is putting companies off

The pharmaceutical industry at large has argued against the widespread adoption of 3D printing because of the initial investment. It’s true, printers capable of producing significant amounts of drugs would be a major investment. But the price of entry is dropping all the time.

Printers are getting faster, which reduces the unit cost, the quality of the construction is improving at breakneck speed and there are huge savings to be made in terms of facilities and shipping costs.

The current supply chain calls for the manufacture of huge amounts of the drug at a time, as companies currently have production runs for each drug that is then stockpiled. Cronin will argue that the whole philosophy needs to change if the industry adopts 3D printing. This will work to its advantage as it can switch to just in time manufacturing and will not have to store vast amounts of inventory.

It’s a cost with a payoff

Cronin accepts that there is an initial cost and, with 3D printing advancing at an incredible rate, the machines will need to be updated regularly. The savings, though, could more than compensate them for the initial outlay as labs, shipping and inventory will simply become a thing of the past.

The 42-year-old is a big name in the industry and a passionate advocate of 3D printing as a way of bringing drugs to the developing world. He believes it is the solution to the shortage of anti-malaria drugs and other medication in Africa. So it stands to reason that he genuinely believes that the process can reduce the price of drug production across the board.

He is also working towards inorganic biology, a living being created from inorganic matter, which regularly brings him into contact with the brightest minds in Physics, Chemical and Electrical Engineering and Biology. So when he makes a point with this veracity then it’s at least worth listening to what he has to say.

Cronin takes to the 3D Innovation Stage at Interphex at the Javits Centre at 10:30am. If you’re in the area it could be well worth your time. If you’re not, words from thought leaders of this stature tend to find their way round the world sooner rather than later in any case.

In this video, Cronin shares his thoughts regarding what he calls “printing your own medicine” (2012)