Pharmacy On Demand: Will We Soon Be Able To Print Pills At Home?

Researchers have developed a way to print medications as they are needed. Called Pharmacy on Demand, researchers were able to make a variety of medications in as little as 24 hours. Normally, manufacturing of medications is a long process that can take anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months. With Pharmacy on Demand, the long wait period is over. An excerpt from a paper published in American Association for the Advancement of Science talks about the current process for making medications and also discusses the new Pharmacy on Demand technology.

“Pharmaceutical manufacturing typically uses batch processing at multiple locations. Disadvantages of this approach include long production times and the potential for supply chain disruptions. As a preliminary demonstration of an alternative approach, we report here the continuous-flow synthesis and formulation of active pharmaceutical ingredients in a compact.”

Just about the size of a refrigerator, Pharmacy on Demand was created by the brilliant minds at MIT. They envision their machine being used during an outbreak scenario or at a time when certain drugs are in short supply and won’t be created for a month or so. Allan Myerson, a MIT professor of the practice in the Department of Chemical Engineering, talked about Pharmacy on Demand.

“Think of this as an energy backup for pharmaceutical manufacturing. The purpose is not to replace traditional manufacturing; it’s to provide an alternative for these special situations.”

The idea for Pharmacy on Demand is not a new one. The group of MIT scientists that created this new pharmacy made a much larger prototype prior to the current Pharmacy on Demand. The group was able to decrease the size in order to make transporting it much more feasible. Currently, only four medications can be created by Pharmacy on Demand. These medications are Benadryl, lidocaine, Valium, and Prozac. In only 24 hours, over 1,000 doses of each drug can be created.

The traditional method that pharmacy manufacturers use to make drugs require extremely large vats to be used in order to create the proper chemical reaction for the drugs. Pharmacy on Demand has eliminated the need for the vats and it is able to create drugs by using small tubes where the chemical reaction takes place. Timothy Jamison, a MIT professor of the practice in the Department of Chemistry, explains the process further.

“In many cases we were developing syntheses of targets that had never been done in a continuous flow platform. That presents a lot of challenges even if there is a good precedent from the batch perspective. We also recognized it as an opportunity where, because of some of the phenomena that one can leverage in [a flow-based system], you can make molecules differently.”

The Pharmacy on Demand system is already being looked at as a way to make smaller amounts of drugs that would be expensive if they were to be created the old-fashioned way. This technology is also being looked at for clinical trials where only a small amount of medication is needed. Another advantage of this new technology is that certain parts of the world have areas where pharmaceutical companies either don’t exist or are very scarce. Places that have the Pharmacy on Demand technology will be able to make the medication right in the doctor’s office or hospital. They would no longer have to do without medications due to expense or limited production.

The MIT team is not finished. Their new goal is to shrink the size of Pharmacy on Demand by 40 percent. They also will be attempting to make drugs that are more chemically complex than the four that they can currently make.

Do you think Pharmacy on Demand will lead to a medication golden age?

[Image Via AP Photo/Matt Rourke]