3D printing doesn't solve the problem of manual compounding

3 min read
Apr 4, 2024 11:07:31 PM

I’ve devoted my life to tackling the challenges of crafting personalized medicine in pharmacies. Since childhood, learning from my mom who worked in a hospital pharmacy, I grasped how labor-intensive, manual, and error-prone the process was. Decades later, I'm baffled to find that much hasn't changed, mirroring practices centuries old. Yet, the landscape is shifting. We're facing a dire shortage of compounding pharmacists, and many are losing the love for the profession. This crisis demands immediate action; without it, vulnerable groups—children, the elderly, and cancer patients who rely on bespoke medications—suffer most.

During my decade as a professor of pharmaceutical technology at Åbo Akademi University, I dove into various technologies, seeking solutions. 3D printing, in particular, piqued my interest. Armed with a basic 49-euro printer from a local supermarket, I explored its potential in precise drug dosing. Initially, it seemed promising, albeit basic. I delved into numerous 3D printing technologies, from Inkjet and FDM to SSE and many others, finding that while some aspects worked, others stumbled over user-friendliness, speed, cleanliness, heating issues, etc.

After a decade of rigorous academic research, it was time to bridge the gap to real-world application. In 2021, we launched CurifyLabs, aiming to evolve our technology into a true solution, developed hand in hand with pharmacists. This collaboration was vital, ensuring our innovations would meet the fast-paced needs of pharmacy work and emphasize user-friendliness. Despite our limited resources, we dared to venture where no one had yet stepped. The market offered 3D printers, from ridiculously priced ones with needless bells and whistles to budget models lacking precision. Neither end of the spectrum addressed our core challenge. The overly expensive machines, laden with features irrelevant to pharmacists, only complicated compounding further. Stories of steep learning curves and inefficient operations highlighted their impracticality. Clearly, 3D printing isn’t the answer to producing personalized medicine—it is merely a piece of a more complex puzzle.

What’s our solution, then? It’s an innovative fusion of four key technologies, each critical to the process. Miss one, and the whole operation falters. Here's the breakdown:

  • Pre-Manufactured Pharmaceutical Excipient Bases: The cornerstone of our approach. The traditional method—ordering, weighing, and mixing ingredients—is notoriously slow and fraught with waste and regulatory headaches. It's a common misconception that 3D printing simplifies this to just pressing a button. The reality? Far from it. Not every material is cut out for precise dosing, and perfecting formulations is a meticulous task. Our game-changer? GMP-certified excipient bases ready to be combined with the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API). This not only ensures compliance and simplicity but significantly cuts down on waste and inefficiency.
  • Integrated Quality Control Technologies: A leap towards safer medications. There's no excuse to bypass these technologies, especially now that we’ve made them accessible. Every patient deserves medicine that's quality-assured, and providing pharmacists with the tools to guarantee this rejuvenates their passion for their work, removing the stress of quality concerns.
  • Versatile Dispensing Technology: Designed to handle a broad spectrum of dosage forms—tablets, liquids, suppositories, polypills, and more—without a hitch. It's all about speed, ease of cleaning, and straightforward operation. This technology ensures pharmacists can meet diverse patient needs efficiently and effectively.
  • Software for Digital Batch Records and Validated Processes: Compounding can be complex, but with the right software, it becomes an enjoyable and rewarding process. Our solution simplifies documentation and ensures that every step meets the highest standards, making compounding less of a chore and more of a pleasure.

Together, these four technologies provide a comprehensive answer to the challenges of manufacturing personalized medicine, making the process smoother, safer, and more enjoyable for pharmacists and ensuring patients receive the quality care they need.

Now at 52, with my 83-year-old mother witnessing the revolution, automated compounding has become a reality. It's a proud moment for our team and clients who've turned this vision into practice.

So 3D printing hasn’t quite cracked the code, but we have.


Below Niklas Sandler Topelius on stage at EAHP 2024