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Printer Medicine

You Could Soon Be Manufacturing Your Own Drugs -- Thanks To 3D Printing (sciencemag.org) 97

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Forget those long lines at the pharmacy: Someday soon, you might be making your own medicines at home. That's because researchers have tailored a 3D printer to synthesize pharmaceuticals and other chemicals from simple, widely available starting compounds fed into a series of water bottle -- size reactors. The work, they say, could digitize chemistry, allowing users to synthesize almost any compound anywhere in the world.

In today's issue of Science, Leroy Cronin, a chemist at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom, and his colleagues report printing a series of interconnected reaction vessels that carry out four different chemical reactions involving 12 separate steps, from filtering to evaporating different solutions. By adding different reagents and solvents at the right times and in a precise order, they were able to convert simple, widely available starting compounds into a muscle relaxant called baclofen. And by designing reactionware to carry out different chemical reactions with different reagents, they produced other medicines, including an anticonvulsant and a drug to fight ulcers and acid reflux. So why not just buy a reactionware kit and scrap the printing? "This approach will allow the on-demand production of chemicals and drugs that are in short supply, hard to make at big facilities, and allow customization to tailor them to the application," Cronin says.

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You Could Soon Be Manufacturing Your Own Drugs -- Thanks To 3D Printing

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  • Uhm... No? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cyberax ( 705495 ) on Friday January 19, 2018 @06:03AM (#55959115)
    There's not going to be a generic 3D "molecular printer" for a long, long time. For one thing, lots of interesting reactions require special conditions that won't sit well with generic "3D printing" stuff: heat, catalysts, pressure, nasty precursors.
    • I can see something like this being bought and used by hospitals, but I don't think we're going to see such devices in homes in our lifetime, if ever.

      There was an article in the NYT about hospitals getting together to get into the generic drug manufacturing business. I think that's a great idea for lowering costs.
      • I can see something like this being bought and used by hospitals, but I don't think we're going to see such devices in homes in our lifetime, if ever.

        Especially if the pharma lobby has its way. They will not be too thrilled bout having this tech in hospitals either.

        • Re:Uhm... No? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by vtcodger ( 957785 ) on Friday January 19, 2018 @08:22AM (#55959421)

          Especially if the pharma lobby has its way. They will not be too thrilled bout having this tech in hospitals either.

          Safe bet. This stuff will be patented, will require years of testing, FDA approval, a maintenance contract, an internet connection, and will cost a fortune -- in the US anyway. It'll be sold by big pharma, not fought by big pharma.

          If it does turn out to be cheap, easy and effective, you'll probably have to smuggle your equipment into the US from China, Cuba ... or Botswana or buy it from some dude who hangs out at a decrepit bowling alley in bad part of town..

        • Pharma Lobby (Score:5, Insightful)

          by DrYak ( 748999 ) on Friday January 19, 2018 @08:59AM (#55959529) Homepage

          They will not be too thrilled bout having this tech in hospitals either.

          Hospitals (specially those with a university nearby) (and in theory even pharmacy stores too - though in my limited US experience these seem to have been replaced by some type of supermarket that happen to sell a bit of medications too) already have small labs that can produce a limited amount of medication.

          Such "lab-in-a-kit" approach could only be expanding a bit the kind of stuff they can produce locally.
          (Or in the case of hospital-with-a-university-lab-within-reach, reducing the time to bring the medication for the simpler molecule that are within reach of the "lab-in-a-kit" and don't require the full university lab).

          In these contexts, it's not much a big change, and probably won't register on the pharma's radar.

          but I don't think we're going to see such devices in homes in our lifetime, if ever.

          Especially if the pharma lobby has its way.

          You think, so? Nope. On the contrary.
          Home drugs is a giant market, and this is definitely a way to secure a foot in it.
          They'll patent it, run through certification projects (rising costs) and sell it, for a premium.
          THEN SELL THE EXCLUSIVE CONTRACTS to provide the necessary consumable for your home drug synthesizer.

          You though inkjet cartridges were as expensive as if they were filled with unicorn blood ?
          Just wait to see the price the pharma companies are going to charge you for their "Drug-o-tron 3000" cartridge replacements. And as these are used for drugs manufacture, you bet there are doing to be heavy regulations by the FDA preventing you to refill the cartridges yourself. (Much better regulated than the current meager attempts to invoke DMCA regarding small counting chips emebed in inkjet cartridges).

          This partially cures the pharma industries worst nightmare :
          The worst nightmare is not to have any new molecule to sell once your older patents run out, while your competitor manage to put something on the market.
          Suddenly you're the guy left out, not having anything lucrative to sell, and having missed the market the other managed to enter.

          With this kind of "at-home-lab-kits", suddenly it doesn't matter as much. Even if your competitor is the one who lands the patent to sell a new drug, you can still make a chunk of money by selling the exclusive cartridges to the patient so they can fab-at-home it.

          And unlike inkjet cartridges (which have basically used the same type of unicorn blood inside for the past decade), the "fab-a-drug-at-home" technology is bound to evolve over the next decades. Meaning new, freshly patented system requiring new cartridge contract everyfew year (think rebuying your smartphone every 2-3 years, except wich actual physico-chemical justification for newer synth tech).

          Throw in remote data collection, and the insurance companies will happily jump together into the bandwagon.

          • Medications that are still under patent will probably be handled this way as a matter of course, but the biggest fight will be over generic compounds. Legally anyone can manufacture a generic, but in recent years companies have been able to use the glacial FDA approval process for certifying that each newly manufactured generic is bioequivalent to the original to establish a de facto monopoly with ludicrous high prices. This tech breaks that monopoly.

            • You're probably correct that legal barriers will be erected. I'm not sure patent would work for that. If I understand correctly, you are allowed to use patented technology for your own purposes without a license. And you can publically document what you do. But you can't offer any physical product of your work to others.

              However, if patent won't do the job, I'm sure the pharma companies will come up with something that will.

              And I think the issue with "de facto" monopolies is that Congress in it's infinit

              • If I understand correctly, you are allowed to use patented technology for your own purposes without a license.

                You understand incorrectly. Infringement is by "whoever without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells".

              • I'm fully aware of the colchicine affair, in which the FDA took a long-standing generic back off the market to give a 7-year monopoly to a small pharma company that promptly raised prices in the same manner as with Daraprim. I think the FDA should be stripped of its power to keep products off the market. Let it manage testing as it does now and issue recommendations on the safety and efficacy of compounds, but let doctors, patients, insurance companies and charities make up their own minds about what they b

          • > You though inkjet cartridges were as expensive as if they were filled with unicorn blood ? Just wait to see the price the pharma companies are going to charge you for their "Drug-o-tron 3000" cartridge replacements.

            Impression Products v. Lexmark http://fortune.com/2017/05/30/... [fortune.com]

        • They'll be fine with it, as long as it is "features" a sealed and encrypted software image that reads their sealed, encrypted, DRM'd licensed recipes for making their drugs.

          Why wouldn't they want to distribute the manufacturing for recurring license fees, in addition to selling the equivalent of ink-jet cartridges of chemical precursors? That's a god damn gold mine - even more than making the pills themselves.

          • I'm thinking this would be a "hit" with the more recreational crowd....

            Push Button MDMA synthesis.....??

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Did you even read the summary? It's about printing purposed designed equipment to carry out specific reactions in an easy/efficient manner.

      Getting the stock for many drugs is easy, carrying out the reaction is hard. This alleviates the difficulty and can perhaps be done where the drugs are needed most or at a local level so organisations don't need to keep huge stockpiles of un-expired drugs in case of emergency.

      • Re:Uhm... No? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Rei ( 128717 ) on Friday January 19, 2018 @08:57AM (#55959523) Homepage

        It's not as interesting as what I though it was going to be about. I'd like to see a series of a dozen or two small, high-temperature-capable reaction vessels (some glass, some platinum-coated steel), each with its own temperature and pressure regulation hardware, and self-reconfiguring plumbing fixtures attached to it (gas/liquid multiplexers). Some vessels would come with common catalyst packs in them (platinum, vanadium oxide, iron, etc), some capable of maintaining a temperature gradient for distillation, some for gas-liquid exchange, some with stirring hardware or an auger to remove precipitates, one with electrodes for electrolysis, etc. A couple heat exchangers also would be nice (potentially the same hardware as the MUXes), as well as a the obligate pump(s) and compressor(s). And of course you need hoppers for solid feedstocks, feed lines for liquids and gases, etc. A nice touch would be if one or more XYZ-axis arms could move between different feedstocks and/or containers for finished products.

        Something like that, where the vessels remain constant but the lines between them reconfigure based on software inputs, would be amazing. Doesn't need to be large - even a desk-sized unit would be very useful. And such a thing would be invaluable for space applications, too; it's one thing to set up offworld production of certain largescale feedstocks, but a whole different thing to try to set up production of every chemical we use as a society, and in particular those needed to keep your industrial processes going. Small-scale batch synthesis is an option, but that requires human labour, and humans leave a massive trail of required consumables in their wake. Automated lab synthesis, however...

        But as for this? I don't see the point of the 3d printer. They're just printing a bunch of simply interconnected vessels and then manually doing a series of reactions in them. [youtube.com]

      • Getting the stock for many drugs is easy, carrying out the reaction is hard.

        Let's go shopping!

    • At first i was thinking along those lines, and also...if i can legally buy t the precursors to feed the machine, then with a little chemistry knowledge, what do I need the 3D printer for at all?

      But if this is building (printing) the molecules one at a time, those nasty precursors don't ever have to exist and there's no chemical reaction involved. so you won't need heat, pressure,, or catalysts.

      Then I realized that this is sci-fi, there's no way to really discuss what its limitations would be or how it
    • by methano ( 519830 )
      Agreed. This article is about someone grabbing a bunch of current topics (3D printing, high drug prices, etc.) and shoving them together in an article to get some press. Anybody (?) can make drugs now at home. All they need is a little knowledge, some equipment and some reagents and starting materials. This guy has used 3D printing to make some crappy versions of equipment and he happens to have the other things on hand. If you could easily build little machines for on-site drug synthesis, you wouldn't make
    • There's not going to be a generic 3D "molecular printer" for a long, long time. For one thing, lots of interesting reactions require special conditions that won't sit well with generic "3D printing" stuff: heat, catalysts, pressure, nasty precursors.

      As someone who tried to DIY a molecular printer/synthesis machine about a decade ago, the concepts are easy and the gear is proven (Hell, you don't need the 3D printer aspect, you can make all the components out of borosilicate tubing and some scrap electronics like heater elements, thermoelectric coolers, and parts from Digikey.) The issue comes from two parts:

      • Reactions: you have to have all the reactions pre-planned, data would be a huge help in this area because as it stands chemical reactions don't ex
    • "For one thing, lots of interesting reactions require special conditions that won't sit well with generic "3D printing" stuff: heat, catalysts, pressure, nasty precursors."

      So only rich nightclubs will have one in the back room and only the Cartels will build them under the washing factories.

  • by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert@slashdot.fi ... NBSDom minus bsd> on Friday January 19, 2018 @06:03AM (#55959117) Homepage

    People already manufacture their own drugs at home, these homes are generally referred to as "meth labs"...

    • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Friday January 19, 2018 @06:33AM (#55959183)

      But this could finally lead to cleaner AND cheaper meth! Just think about it, no longer buying stuff adulterated with god-knows-what, just pure dope.

      Finally MDMA worth the name again, it will be like the 90s never ended.

      • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Friday January 19, 2018 @07:07AM (#55959271)

        But this could finally lead to cleaner AND cheaper meth!

        And it would be blue.

        • Blue meth is so 5 years ago. When i get the printer, my meth is going to be red. Yeah, red meth is the future. Blue is for people living in the past.
          • Blue meth is so 5 years ago. When i get the printer, my meth is going to be red. Yeah, red meth is the future. Blue is for people living in the past.

            Red? Damn are you out of touch.

            According to the Starbucks generation, your meth fucking better be organic, gluten free, unicorn colored, and taste like pumpkin spice.

      • Don’t want to pop your bubble but MDMA is pretty complicated process to synthesize. Very simple to find in google.
        • Provided the precursors are available, it is fairly easy. At least easier than LSD-25.

          • The precursors are the hardest part of LSD-25. A person could always "dispose" of ergotamine tartrate in their university lab, but I wouldn't recommend it.
    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      People already manufacture their own drugs at home, these homes are generally referred to as "meth labs"...

      Yeah.... when this becomes feasible; the manufacturers of these systems are going to have to tread very lightly and implement strong security measures in the software to prevent synthesizing prohibited chemicals Or controlled medications without a prescription or in excess of prescribed QTY or face government regulation; i'm sure.

      • Government heavily controls the base materials and equipment needed for illegal drugs manufacturing. I think this would be another crypto situation where they just won’t be able to do jack shit on the user’s end. Except making them illegal some how.
      • by Bert64 ( 520050 )

        Any software controls will be quickly circumvented, like all forms of DRM...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What if people start making drugs that make them happy? We can't allow that - the 'government' said so!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You can actually manufacture drugs yourself right now.

    • Yes, but right now, it requires specialized equipment and skill. Not something commonly available. Plus, right now, many of the chemicals will get you on a DEA watchlist. If this is normalized, the chemicals will become commonplace. However, if they turn out to actually work, the pharmaceutical industry will shut it down. Most likely by paying their pet congressmen to make them illegal because they could make undesirable substances.

      • by mark-t ( 151149 )

        I think it's a pretty safe bet that this stuff is never going to be commonly available... or at least never available so long as we have the kind of society that we do now. If for no other reason than that the powers that be would not permit the selling of devices that can produce arbitrary drugs to invididuals, but only to reputable health and/or drug organizations.

        For fuck's sake.... you can't even get a decent chemistry set anymore because of the paranoia about what people will do with them. You thi

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As grandiose an idea as this is - and not a bad one either - this isn't likely to happen, most especially not in the USA.

    Companies like GSK are going to fight this tooth and nail - not only in 31 different flavors of court cases, but through threats, blackmail, legislation, and if pushed hard enough by calling down deadly raids of what may as well be considered now a private military thanks to sociopaths like Jeff Sessions' DOJ.

    There is no damn chance that massive corporations raking in hundreds of billions

  • Oh for fucks sake... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 19, 2018 @06:40AM (#55959211)

    It is not fucking 3-D printing buzzword bullshit. And it is not new. And there are plenty of manufacturers of purpose built equipment for this sort of thing tha make much more sense than adapting a garage toy.

    http://www.gilson.com/en/GilsonProducts/AutomatedSystems.aspx [gilson.com]

    https://www.agilent.com/en-us/products/automation-solutions [agilent.com]

    But you're still going to need purification, assay and QA. (You'll need high pressure liquid chromatographs, gas chromatographs, mass spectrometers...)

    No, you can't make drugs at home without a proper lab.

    • in the short term, we'll not be seeing any of this anywhere at all.

      In the medium term, we can expect that some part of the drug manufacturing process will include "3d printing" (ie. a machine that does some clever mixing/reacting or whatever, probably nothing like an actual 3D printer).

      In the long term, I expect we'll see a variety of common drugs being made at the pharmacist on demand (a bit like you buy Dulux paint nowadays - they send the constituent colours to the store, who mix them (quite precisely) o

    • +1 informative and insightful. How do you passivate the vessels and all the lines? How do you calibrate instrumentation to guard against under/overdosing?

      I could see this revolutionizing test labs for quick plant startups of lines, and maybe even small contract labs attached to regional hospitals for just-in-time production. I can't see this as a home kit. This isn't seltzer water.

      --#

  • by CustomSolvers2 ( 4118921 ) on Friday January 19, 2018 @07:23AM (#55959299) Homepage
    Anyone could certainly create any drug or good available in the market, but this is impractical for many reasons like price, raw material availability, usual low flexibility of manufacturing processes, etc. to not mention other issues like patents or even legal prohibitions.

    This reminds me the time when I jokily said to some (extremely naive, detached-from-reality) people that I was planning to create a company to sell drugs. The most surprising bit wasn't they blindly believing such a nonsense, but seriously thinking that that scenario could occur at all. I mean people whose knowledge about something mostly consist in extrapolating the few ideas they have from sources like movies or out-of-context news. I guess that everyone is a bit like this at some point and for different reasons. Properly-speaking people learn from their errors and accept the limitations of their knowledge. In-denial souls/true suckers/fanatics blindly stick to their distorted perception of reality and even use it as starting step to come up with further nonsensical ideas.
  • by rally2xs ( 1093023 ) on Friday January 19, 2018 @07:58AM (#55959371)

    The main difference between medicine and poison is dosage. My blood thinner is actually a low-dose rat poison. Have some software or hardware malfunction and screw up the dosage, and things could get really serious. Sooo... no thanks...

    • by zenasprime ( 207132 ) on Friday January 19, 2018 @09:10AM (#55959573) Homepage

      Perhaps you don't realize this but medical errors are big problem in healthcare and negative patient outcomes are more significant that you may think... https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/p... [nih.gov]

      • So your argument is that because doctors/pharmacies sometimes make mistakes and prescribe/dispense the wrong dose, there's no harm in a manufacturing process that may or may not result in the dosage specified by the vast majority of correct prescriptions? You can't be serious.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The main difference between medicine and poison is dosage. My blood thinner is actually a low-dose rat poison. Have some software or hardware malfunction and screw up the dosage, and things could get really serious. Sooo... no thanks...

      But dosage is measured out of the end-resulting product, not during manufacturing.

      I would be willing to bet if you went to the place they make your blood thinner right now using the old fashion method, and you simply started guzzling the entire vat down, that would kill you just the same.

      The manufacturer takes that massive bulk vat of output medicine and measures out dosages from it.

      3D printing your own "glassware" is identical, excepting that the output "vat" is the size of a drinking glass in your cabinet

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Friday January 19, 2018 @08:15AM (#55959411)

    3D printing is awesome tech and will have tremendous utility but too many people are treating it like its some sort of magical-do-anything technology. Could it someday "print" something as sophisticated as a drug on a commercial basis? Sure, maybe. Many many years from now. As it stands we are a long way from that. It probably won't actually be what we think of as a 3D printer unless you use such a generic definition of the term as to render it almost meaningless. Think about it - how is a molecule really 3D from a macroscopic point of view? Yes it isn't technically flat but it's about as close as you can get to being literally 2D. It's kind of like how people lately are throwing around the term AI for any clever computer system even when the term doesn't really fit.

    My day job is running a manufacturing company and I've got direct experience working with 3D printing in a prototyping lab from a previous day job. I've worked with some of the large Stratasys machines making plastic parts and a machine that did sintered metals too. There are a few important limitations on 3D printing the most important of which are economic rather than technical:

    1) It is slow to make most items. In most circumstances 3D printing takes a LOT longer than most other manufacturing processes.
    2) It is hard to make something with mixed materials. Not impossible and there is progress but don't mistake one for a Star Trek replicator.
    3) 3D printing is typically VERY expensive on a unit cost basis for most items compared with other manufacturing techniques even including distribution costs once you get above very small volumes. This is the most important limitation.
    4) 3D printed parts typically require some amount of manufacturing even after leaving the printer to become useful.

    Now 3D printing will get faster and the technology will improve - probably quite a lot. But for economic reasons it's probably never going to see much use for mass production within the lifetime of anyone who reads this. It's primary utility will be for items that cannot be economically made and distributed in small quantities - which is still a very substantial market. Prototypes, rare/obsolete parts, very small production runs, custom parts, etc. It also will have utility in places where distribution is problematic. Think Antarctica in winter or in space where resupply is tough to impossible.

  • So...how long will it take for a hacked firmware that prints designer narcotics to hit the street? That's why this tech will never come to fruition.
  • by Headw1nd ( 829599 ) on Friday January 19, 2018 @10:02AM (#55959753)
    Microscale chemistry has been a thing for a long time now, and it's not all that difficult. If these drugs could be cost-effectively produced in this fashion then they would be. On top of that, I've done a bit of 3D printing, and my faith in the ability of 3D printers to produce complex systems flawlessly every time is nil.
  • Yeah right, the trick in chemistry is not in mixing stuff together and getting a reaction going, its in separating out the good stuff from the resulting gunk. In a long series of reactions the problem is that you need pure products from previous reactions, but each separation and purification brings a yield penalty with it, so if your processes are not up to snuff then your cumulative yield over the entire process is going to be pretty much zero. And every step of the way you have to make sure you actually
    • and a sidebar to this is sometimes you get an unwanted product that goes BOOM (or gets STINKY or...).

      so if you are "Breaking Bad" don't forget exactly how bad things can get.

  • First, drugs are really cheap here.
    Second, drugs are free for children and young adults.
    Third, any drug-making device would be so very illegal to own.
    Fourth, it would be at the local drug store instead, so we'd never notice the difference.
    Fifth, I'm not going to setup and and control and wait and follow a recipe when I'm ill.
    Sixth, drug delivery is also cheap/free in my city -- for anyone who knows that it always has been.

  • The weed dispensary where I live delivers. I mean, they actually got a van with a logo and some dude in a polo shirt and white-boy dreadlocks who brings the shit right to your door. I ain't tryna 3D-print some Blueberry Yum Yum sticky bud.

    • $10/gram or $500/pound? Dispensaries are for chumps, find someone with a garden and pay untaxed wholesale.

  • Loading Meth.bat....

  • Expect this technology to become illegal.

  • I wonder how many trekkies came in their pants when they read this?

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