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3D printers to allow patients make their own drugs at home

DUBAI // Fast-paced developments in 3-D printing technology could result in patients making their own prescription drugs to treat chronic medical conditions at home.

The latest innovations were on show at the Dubai Health Forum, a two-day conference showcasing what technologies patients can expect to benefit from in the near future.

Although regulation and accessibility remain the key hurdles in bringing 3-D printing to the market, doctors at Dubai Health Authority are confident they can soon take the technology into people’s homes.

It would also probably bring down the cost of providing expensive cancer care drugs that have soared in price and are unaffordable to some healthcare providers.

FabRx, a UK-based biotech company focused on developing 3-D printing technology for making pharmaceuticals and medical devices, presented the latest developments in personalised medicines at the forum.

“Our idea is not to scale up the process, but to bring this into hospitals, clinics and at home,” said the company’s director of development Alvaro Goyanes.

“Eventually, we see prescriptions being sent to people’s homes so they can print their own medication. Patients will be able to print the right dose, or combination of drugs, for themselves.”

Pharmacists will need to develop the correct dosage for each filament used to print off each batch of pills. The filament is the raw material used by printers to create the final product. Filaments will be sold to hospitals to print their own drugs using in-house printers.

The method should also reduce the incidence of counterfeit medication, because the filament will be harder to replicate, developers claim.

“With the right application, this method will be cheaper and faster for patients to use,” Mr Goyanes said.

“Hospitals are not currently manufacturing medicine, but that could change to allow medical centres to manage their own manufacturing process.”

Although 3-D printed medication has been tested on animals, it is yet to be used in human trials. It would need to be approved by regulators before use, but developers are confident this could be reached within two years.

3-D printing could result in the cost of the most expensive drugs being reduced, including those used in cancer treatment.

A 2015 study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research found the prices of cancer drugs had increased 10 per cent every year between 1995 and 2013.

According to Cancer Research UK, Cancer costs the world £895 billion (Dh3.99 trillion) a year – more than any other disease. In the US, pricing freedom means the best-selling drugs are on average three times more expensive than in the UK.

Dr Mohammad Al Redha, director of the executive office for organisational transformation at the DHA, said the development could be a game-changer for health care.

“Technology is challenging us every day, and while we must be careful how we spend our dollars, we want to give the best to our patients,” he said.

“This will potentially change the way health care works.”

Dr Al Redha said any home printing of 3-D drugs would be strictly controlled. Log-in codes similar to a bank account would allow access to domestic 3-D printing machines used for medication.

“Three-D printing can be compared to the transportation industry with automated systems,” he said. “If you no longer need a kidney donor because you can use bio-ink that is a 100 per cent match to the recipient, it is a lot cheaper and there is zero risk of rejection, the development is huge.

“It is the same with medication.”

nwebster@thenational.ae