How 3D printing could open up new careers in pharmaceuticals

How 3D printing could open up new careers in pharmaceuticals

The pharmaceutical and healthcare industries offer a raft of jobs for both graduates and those already in the world of work, whether it's in drug development, sales or patient-facing roles.

However, it is interesting to consider the fact that new careers are arising all the time as a result of developing technologies - and that anyone hoping for top jobs in pharmaceuticals could begin training now in the hope of setting off down a pathway towards them.

The rise and rise of 3D printing

One area that is likely to see a boom in growth over the coming years is 3D printing for healthcare and pharma, something that has already proved its worth in a range of different fields as the specifics behind it improve.

For instance, 3D printing has assisted in surgery to separate conjoined twins by allowing surgeons to practise on complex models, as well as in dry runs of face transplants and spinal surgery.

It is also being used to produce low-cost implants for bones and teeth, and in the production of hearing aids, Chemistry World reports.

Now though, the pioneering technology is coming to the fore as a way of improving medicine manufacturing and delivering increasingly personalised drugs to patients.

Developments in drug manufacturing

The first 3D-printed tablet, an anti-epileptic called Spritam, was created in 2015 and companies across the globe are now looking into emulating this to create their own drugs.

Last year, Aprecia and Cycle Pharmaceuticals from Cambridge announced that they would be developing and commercialising 3D-printed tablets for orphan diseases.

The huge draw of 3D printing is that it can not only print thousands of tablets a day using a single printer, but also that it is able to be tailored to produce specific types of drugs in whatever dose is required.

This is excellent for smaller pharmaceutical companies. No longer are they restricted on what medicines they can develop because they do not want to produce thousands of doses that they will not be able to distribute. Instead, it is possible to effectively 'change the ink' on the 3D printer and print many different types of tablets - or even single doses.

Clive Roberts from the University of Nottingham told Chemistry World that this has huge implications for personalised medicine, with the potential for 3D printers to eventually be incorporated into pharmacies to create medicines for individual patients. This would mean drugs are carefully tailored towards their healthcare needs at no extra cost.

Issues with 3D printing

Of course, as with any new technology, there are issues with 3D printing that need to be ironed out before it can be widely used in the healthcare industry.

However, that in itself produces new career opportunities for graduates in the sciences and those working towards pharmaceutical jobs.

For example, scientists have noted that some drugs such as antibiotics degrade when heat is applied for printing, so that obstacle will have to be overcome - and a solution developed by researchers.

There are also potential pitfalls in product liability, as the efficacy of every 3D printing operation cannot be overseen by the manufacturers. What if product defect claims arise? What if hackers intercept the printing process and mass-produce a drug at low quality?

All of these issues will require research and that will necessitate recruitment in brand new fields of healthcare.

3D bioprinting

One application that it's thought could cause a real boom in 3D printing is bioprinting - the creation of human tissue using living human cells. Scientists have already been able to produce replicas of organs including ears using human tissue and, although organs such as hearts and kidneys have proved trickier because of their more complex makeup, it is expected this milestone will be reached relatively soon.

Some experts suggest we could be less than 20 years away from printing out a fully functioning 3D-printed human heart, which has enormous implications for transplants.

Bioprinting could also speed up drug development by allowing researchers to practise the effects of medicines on human tissue instead of having to wait for several stages of clinical trials.

Estimates by MarketsandMarkets.com suggest that using 3D printing for medical applications could amount to a market value of $2.13 billion (£1.4 billion) by 2020.

This is going to translate to a much bigger industry and far more jobs in pharmaceuticals. It could be worth looking into training options now if you want to get into this fascinating and fast-growing field of healthcare.