There is a wild grind of mad science currently underway that researchers believe will eventually lead to people using 3D printing technology to produce all the drugs they’ll ever need for medicinal and recreational purposes.
It’s a bizarre concept that was first revealed during a 2012 TED Talk, when Lee Cronin, a chemist from the University of Glasgow, walked onto the stage and began rambling about how he had developed a prototype for a machine that would allow the average person to download digital blueprints for chemical compounds that could then be used to print drugs.
Cronin told those in attendance that this was done using the combination of software, hardware and chemical inks.
“If we can manufacture it after we’ve discovered it, we can deploy it anywhere,” Cronin said. “You don’t need to go to the chemist anymore.”
What Cronin is suggesting is that one day the average person would be able to obtain a digital prescription from a doctor that would allow them to access the blueprint and the specific chemical ink to produce a medication using a “personal matter fabricator”—a method that could make expensive medications more accessible and affordable.
However, the nuts and bolts of this technology might tie Big Pharma’s short and curlies in a double knot.
As reported earlier this week by Reason, the reality of 3D drugs is one that has already come to fruition here in the United States. Last month, the Pennsylvania-based Aprecia Pharmaceuticals brought to market a new epilepsy medication called Spritam, which is manufactured “layer-by-layer” through a 3D printing process called ZipDose. The company says this process allows the medicine to disintegrate in a person’s mouth as soon as a sip of liquid is consumed.
But as expected, the materialization of 3D medications is causing some panic among those responsible for handling the legalities of the pharmaceutical trade because they remain unsure about how this new technology will affect the industry.
“The 3D printing process will allow pharmacists, hospitals and others to print patented drugs without the oversight of the manufacturer,” said St. Louis attorney Leanne Rakers during an interview with Bloomberg. “That would open them up to potential lawsuits if the drug is printed incorrectly and the patient suffers harm from the improper manufacturing of their medication.”
In addition, Rakers said 3D printing will make it next to impossible to enforce drug patents because “if you can’t identify and enforce, then it makes patent law pretty much obsolete.”
But could the emergence of a medicine machine—one that essentially makes even the most remedial user an effective chemist—bring about the downloading of schematics for recreational substances, perhaps paving the way to a time when people no longer need to go through the often excruciating task of connecting with a drug dealer?
Although Cronin suggests his technology would make it difficult to produce illegal drugs, Reason’s J.D. Tuccile believes that with regulators, legislators and the courts working to control this unstoppable technology, they “may find that they’ve thwarted only the life-saving applications, and left the technology in the hands of the underground recreational drug fanciers who got them so flustered in the first place.”
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