Printing pills.

PhysOrg reports on a new technique for making medication by printing drugs onto tablets:

A medicine droplet is 20 times larger than an ink droplet in a standard ink-jet system, so the challenges facing the researchers include the numbers of drops that each tablet can hold, and how to increase the level of active ingredient in each drop. The research will also look at the properties and behaviour of the suspension, the shape and size of the printing nozzle and ways to pump the suspension through the printing equipment.

Drugs produced in this way would be faster acting, as with the active ingredient on the pill’s surface, the pill would no longer need to be broken down by the digestive system before the drug can enter the bloodstream. Ultimately it would also be possible to print several drugs onto one pill, reducing the number of tablets to be swallowed by patients on multiple medicines.

Printing active ingredients onto pre-formed tablets speeds up and improves quality control, as each tablet contains exactly the correct dose. With some of the current quality assurance procedures rendered unnecessary, new drugs would reach patients much faster.

The first documented manufacture of pills goes back to Egyptian times, when active medicinal ingredients were rolled in bread or clay, but the earliest reference to a tablet – a compressed pill – is found in tenth century Arabic medical literature. The process had little changed when the first patent for tablets was applied for in 1843. First produced in small doses by pharmacists, mass production still uses the same process, but with much advanced technology and quality assurance.

Because most drugs only need very small doses, the pill or tablet acts as a carrier to make the medicine big enough to pick up and swallow.