Pioneering technique developed in Preston will tailor medicines to each patient

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A new technique which could revolutionise the way drugs are made has been developed in Preston.

Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire are in the throes of patenting a system which could see medicine bills slashed and low-cost personalised medicines readily available.

Dr Mohamed Albed Alhnan at UCLan with the 3D tablet printer

Dr Mohamed Albed Alhnan at UCLan with the 3D tablet printer

The revolutionary technique uses a 3D printer to ‘print’ a tablet of medicine in exactly the right quantity.The printer can replicate drugs already available in pharmacies and hospitals but. more importantly, can tailor medicines directly to a patient’s specific needs.

Dr Mohamed Albed Alhnan, from the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, and his team developed a drug-polymer filament system that can replace the original filaments in a 3D printer.

Early indications are that the technology will reduce the cost of manufacturing tablets for individual patients – something that costs the NHS millions of pounds – while also opening the door to new options for doctors and patients that used to be considered impractical or too expensive.

Dr Alhnan, a pharmacist, said the team basically used the same techniques used by hobbyists and other 3D printer users but adapted it to take pharmaceutical compounds rather than polymers.

He added that medicines were currently mass produced in standardised doses, which means that patients sometimes have to “under or over” dose because it is usually too expensive to create bespoke prescriptions.

However, the new technique will enable doses that veer from the norm to be tailor made.

Dr Alhnan said: “As pharmacists we are aware of the problems that exist .

“At the moment we are making standard medicines, a one size fits all, but now the trend is to prescribe medicine specifically tailored for individual patients, which is where the new method comes in.

He explained that with some medication, such as that given to a liver patient, a fraction of a milligram of a drug makes a big difference and at the moment it is extremely expensive to tailor to these needs.

Dr Alhnan said his team worked on the project for more than a year and although they have already submitted patency papers there were still a lot of “hoops to jump through” before the method is in general use.

He added: “Thanks to this technology, the invented system can provide medical institutions with a new option and maintain dosage form properties while accurately adjusting the dose with simple software order, something that was considered before to be costly and required experienced staff and dedicated facilities.

“Eventually, we hope to see that units can be kept at home for patients who continuously need to change their daily dose.”

It is predicted that the technique will be used by pharmaceutical firms and hospitals within five years and by the public within a decade.