Xaar printhead used for personalized medicines

Added Scientific, a research company based in Nottingham, UK, has used Xaar’s 1201 printhead in a study to test the suitability of inkjet printing in the manufacture of personalised pharmaceutical pills, where dosages could be tailored to individuals on an industrial scale.

Added Scientific has used Xaar 1201 printheads to demonstrate the feasibility of inkjet printing personalised medicines.

Added Scientific was set up to develop cutting edge additive manufacturing solutions in areas such as printing glass and functional lattices for automotive components. So the company has essentially approached the manufacturing of pills as a 3D-printing problem, and used a material jetting approach. Xaar’s an obvious choice for this, having a 3D division based at Nottingham and actively working on material jetting. 

The pilot project, which also involved AstraZeneca, examined the long-term scalability and suitability of using inkjet printing to dispense the active pharmaceutical ingredient in the pills. Craig Sturgess, research manager for Added Scientific, explains: “Inkjet printing offers the ability to digitally control the printing with its precision placement of tiny droplets a few picolitres in size and the capability to place multiple materials to create complex multi-functional objects in 2D & 3D.”

He added: “Trial research carried out previously has shown that inkjet offers a real potential for printed medicines. This project was designed to answer questions pharmaceutical companies have around the suitability of inkjet printing in dispensing APIs at a scale that made both manufacturing and economic sense.”

Those questions include how this technique affects the active pharmaceutical ingredient, and what impact the formulations have on the printhead’s life,  as well as the printhead’s ability to operate in Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) conditions. This was compared against data from conventional tablet manufacturing from AstraZeneca.

The research found that there were significant time-savings in unit process times from inkjet printing when compared to traditional manufacturing methods in production trials of 1000 dosage forms manufactured in batches of 100. The study also showed that 1201 didn’t affect the active pharmaceutical ingredient, and that there was no impact on the expected life of the printhead.

Sturgess concludes: “Our project has clearly shown that printing personalised medicines – with all their advantages of dose and design freedom – is no longer just a theory, but a scalable and economic reality for pharmaceutical companies and we look forward to extended trials to confirm these findings.”

The 1201 is a Thin Film Piezo printhead that’s manufactured using silicon Micro Electrical Mechanical System (MEMS) technology. It has 1280 nozzles, arranged in 4 rows for printing either 1 or 2 colours at 600 dpi, or 4 colours at 300 dpi native resolution. It produces a 27mm print swathe with 2.5pl drop volume and is suitable for use with eco-solvent, UV or aqueous inks. It’s quite small and relatively easy to integrate and has generally been sold as a cost-effective option for the wide format and textiles markets. 

Mike Seal, business development manager of Advanced Manufacturing at Xaar, commented: “This pilot project has demonstrated the Xaar 1201’s versatility for pharmaceuticals and how inkjet printing is proving itself to have the potential to drive innovation as well as efficiencies in many areas of 21st century life.”

The study takes the personalized concept to a whole new level! This project was funded under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s Medicines Manufacturing Challenge, with support from Innovate UK.

You can find more information on Xaar and the 1201 printhead at www.xaar.com, and on Added Scientific here.

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