A pill produced via 3D printing has been given the green light to be mass produced by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It’s a world first, but what benefits does 3D printing offer the pharmaceutical industry?

The drug in question is Spiritam, a dissolvable pill designed for the treatment of seizures for people with epilepsy. Approximately 150,000 US citizens are diagnosed with epilepsy every year, and 460,000 of the 2.9 million people suffering from the condition are reported to be children.

The process of printing Spiritam involves a 3D printer that has been adapted to produce pharmaceutical compounds rather than polymers. Spiritam was developed by Aprecia Pharmaceuticals, which is now planning to create other forms of medicine using its 3D printing platform.

Don Wetherhold, CEO of Aprecia, said: “This is the first in a line of central nervous system products Aprecia plans to introduce as part of our commitment to transform the way patients experience taking medication.”

So what specific benefits does 3D printing offer? For one, as 3D printing works by creating an object one layer at a time, it means that doctors are able to produce customised medication tailored for their patients. Printing medication also allows for it to be packaged more tightly and in more precise dosages.

Dr Mohamed Albed Alhnan, a lecturer in pharmaceutics at the University of Central Lancashire, told the BBC: “For the last 50 years we have manufactured tablets in factories and shipped them to hospitals and for the first time this process means we can produce tablets much closer to the patient.”

Indeed, with just a simple tweak of the printing setting, medical institutions could now produce bespoke medication, which would previously have been extremely expensive. Dentists are already using 3D printers to create replica jaws and teeth, as well as other dental implants.

Spiritam will be available from early 2016.