3D Printing for Epilepsy Treatments

January 1, 2016
Heidi Moawad, MD

Does it matter whether the medications we prescribe to patients are generated via the most cutting edge 3D printing technology?

New 3D technology used in pharmaceutical manufacturing has gotten some attention in the press recently. The idea of 3D printing itself is fascinating. If you have ever seen a 3D printer in action, it is definitely a remarkable process to watch.

In the medical world, 3D printing has been touted as a breakthrough in the context of artificial implants, which seems an intuitive and practical application. However, using 3D printing in pharmaceutical production is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the potential relevant uses for 3D printing technology in patient care. But what is even more important than the exciting headlines is whether doctors should care about how prescription medications such as those used for epilepsy are produced. Does it matter whether the medications we prescribe to patients are generated via the most cutting edge 3D printing technology or through any other more traditional or even more modern means of manufacturing? 

Epilepsy is certainly one of the most challenging lifelong medical conditions faced by patients and their doctors alike. Between the balancing acts of unraveling the complex etiology of a patient’s seizures, the meticulous medication dosage titration and adjustments, and dealing with the serious risk factors related to life issues ranging from driving to pregnancy, epilepsy management most often necessitates regular consultation with a neurologist.

The news of recent FDA approval for Spritam, a 3D printed formulation of the epilepsy medication leveteracitam is interesting, but the real relevance is still unclear. As neurologists, we have not specifically been awaiting a prescription anticonvulsant created through 3D printing technology. What, if any, are the advantages that await our patients as a result of this new development? 

The manufacturer describes the process as a method that uses layers of powder held together by liquid, a technique presented as a means to deliver higher doses of medication that disintegrate faster. Advantages are said to be high doses that are more water soluble and better tasting than currently available formulations.

There is undoubtedly a wide range in the demand for epilepsy treatments, varying from short acting to long acting to rapid onset to formulations appropriate for emergency treatment. Avoidance of drug interactions, a need for efficacy and safety, and tolerability are also important criteria in selecting anticonvulsants. The day-to-day benefits of 3D printing technology specifically in epilepsy treatment, however, remain to be seen. But there is no doubt that, certainly, for the neurologist and the patient alike, this is a good development because the more options that are available, the better.

What do you think about new technological advances in pharmaceutical production?

Reference: Vari MS, et al. Safety of overnight switch from brand-name to generic levetiracetam. Clin Drug Investig. 2015 Oct 27. [Epub ahead of print]