Chemical ‘MP3 Player’ breakthrough converts digital code into pharmaceuticals

Published: 19 January 2018

A new method of drug manufacture which uses 3D printers to create pharmaceuticals on demand could lead to a ‘Spotify for chemistry’, scientists claim.

A new method of drug manufacture which uses 3D printers to create pharmaceuticals on demand could lead to a ‘Spotify for chemistry’, scientists claim.

In a new paper published today (January 19) in the journal Science, researchers from the University of Glasgow present for the first time a new approach to the manufacture of pharmaceuticals which can be made using a digital code.CroninChemicalFactory450

This code is used by a 3D printer to produce a portable factory, which can then be used to make the drug by adding the chemicals in a pre-defined fail-safe sequence.

This approach could dramatically increase the number of useful drugs available regardless of patent-life, as they will no longer need to be made in a limited number of dedicated manufacturing facilities.

The researchers claim the ability to ‘print’ drug factories on demand could reduce cost, increase the choice available to clinicians, reduce the risk of counterfeiting, and help personalise drug delivery to the needs of individual patients.

In the paper, the team of researchers from the University’s School of Chemistry demonstrate the potential of the system by producing the pharmaceutical Baclofen, a muscle relaxer used to treat muscle symptoms caused by multiple sclerosis, including spasm, pain, and stiffness.

The team’s chemical factories are designed using a chemical-to-digital convertor to digitise the process so that it can easily be reproduced in a 3D printer, a process which the researchers liken to converting a compact disc to an MP3 file which can then be listened to on any computer or portable music player. With the addition of a simple instruction manual, the drug can be produced when and where it is needed.

The approach was designed and developed by Professor Lee Cronin, the University of Glasgow’s Regius Chair of Chemistry, and his team to help pave the way for the local manufacture of drugs outside of specialist facilities. Professor Cronin said: “This approach is a key step in the digitization of chemistry, and will allow the on demand production of chemicals and drugs that are in short supply, hard to make at big facilities, and allow customisation to tailor them to the application. We will also use this approach to make a ‘Spotify for chemistry’, allowing scientists to develop better code to make important chemicals.” 

This research is funded by the University of Glasgow complex chemistry initiative along with the European Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Professor Cronin has a long-standing relationship with EPSRC; support provided by EPSRC over the last 16 years has aided in the development of diverse research areas, ranging from the development of inorganic fuels for water splitting to the use of configurable robotics for the programming of drug discovery and novel materials.

He is currently the principal investigator for projects in receipt of EPSRC grants worth £7.6 million and is co-investigator on a further four grants totalling £9.9 million, while EPSRC has supported 20 previous research projects since 2002.

Additionally, the business activity of Cronin Group Plc, the AIM listed company of which Professor Cronin is the founding scientific director, is the digitization of chemical space.

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First published: 19 January 2018

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