As 3D printing technology gains acceptance with pharmaceutical companies, clinical laboratories could see increased demand for pharmacogenomic testing
Will physicians someday “print” prescription drugs for patients in-office? It sounds like science fiction, but research being conducted at the University College London (UCL) indicates the capability may be closer than we think, and it could bring about a new type of collaboration between clinical laboratories, ordering physicians, and pharmacies.
UCL’s new 3D technique, which it calls “volumetric 3D printing,” is intended to enable the pharmaceutical industry to tailor drug dosage, shape/size, and release to an individual patient’s needs and preference. A key element of precision medicine.
According to GlobalData Healthcare, 3D printing also can “significantly reduce cost, wastes, and economic burden as printers only deposit the exact amount of raw materials required.”
3D printing may enable pharmaceutical companies to address gender and racial disparities in prescription drug manufacturing through a developing technology that could have implications for clinical laboratory testing. Fred Parietti, PhD (above), co-founder and CEO of Multiply Labs, a technology company that develops robotics for precision medicine pharmaceuticals, told 3D Natives, “Currently, medications are developed especially for white adult men, which means that all women and children have an excessive prescription for their bodies. This fact underlines the importance of the advent of personalized medicines, as well as highlighting the individuality of each patient, since the error in the dosage of certain active ingredients can even lead to the malfunctioning of some treatments.” (Photo copyright: Multiply Labs.)
Increased Demand for Pharmacogenomic Testing
Though 3D printing of prescription drugs is not directly in the clinical laboratory/pathology space, it is noteworthy because it shows how technological advancements are progressing that actualize the ability to deliver precision medicine care to individual patients.
In turn, this could increase physician/patient demand for pharmacogenomic tests performed by clinical laboratories. The test results would be used by treating physicians to determine proper dosages for their individual patients prior to ordering 3D-printed drugs.
Being able to provide medication tailored to patients’ specific needs could bring about a revolution in pharmaceutical manufacturing. If 3D printed prescription drugs become mainstream, the demands could affect the clinical laboratory and pathology industries as well.
How Far Are We from Mass Production of 3D Printed Drugs?
Headquartered in Blue Ash, Ohio, Aprecia’s patented ZipDose manufacturing process allows 3D-printed pills to hold a larger dosage and dissolve rapidly. They currently have the only FDA process-validated 3D printing platform for commercial-scale drug production. They are leading the way on this new 3D technology and others are following suit.
FabRx, a start-up 3D printing company developed by academic researchers in 2014 at the University College London, released its first pharmaceutical 3D printer for personalized medicine called M3DIMAKER according to LabioTech.eu. The system is “controlled by specialized software, allowing the selection of the required dose by the pharmacist according to the prescription given by the clinician,” the company’s website notes.
The technology also allows for additional customization of pills, including the application of Braille for visually impaired patients, and printing of Polypills, which combine more than one drug into a single pill.
Other company’s developing 3D printing of pharmaceuticals, according to LabioTech.eu, include:
Germany’s Merck: currently in clinical trials of 3D printing medication with the goal of reaching large scale production.
China’s Triastek: which holds “41 patents that account for more than 20% of global 3D printing pharmaceuticals applications.”
We are still far away from large scale production of drugs using 3D printing, but that doesn’t mean it should not be on clinical laboratory leaders’ radar.
The rise of 3D printing technology for precision medicine could lead to big changes in the pharmaceutical world and alter how patients, providers, and clinical laboratories interact. It also could increase demand for pharmacogenomic testing to determine the best dosage for individual patients. This breakthrough shows how one line of technology research and development may, as it reaches clinical use, engage clinical laboratories.
Drug companies claim HHS rule violates their first amendment rights, but added web links to drug prices in their TV ads anyway
Will American consumers ever see the prices of their
prescription drugs? That almost happened this summer, when a Trump
administration healthcare transparency initiative would have required
pharmaceutical companies to include prices in drug advertisements. But that
requirement was halted by a federal judge one day before it was scheduled to take
The measure, which passed in May, was intended to provide
healthcare consumers with price transparency for some prescription medications
and help lower prescription costs. However, a federal judge placed the new law
on hold citing government over-reach.
This is a significant development for clinical
laboratory managers, pathologists,
and others watching efforts that will enable patients to see the cost of their
medical care in advance of service. Also, few were surprised to learn that this
court case was filed by pharmaceutical companies with the goal of preventing
prescription drug prices from being disclosed in these advertisements.
HHS Tells Big Pharma to ‘Level with People’ About Drug
Reducing prescription drug prices is a critical issue for
healthcare consumers. Therefore, any policy that helps lower costs should
provide benefits for both patients as well as the healthcare industry overall.
That’s why President Trump signed the initiative that required pharmaceutical
companies to include drug prices in television advertisements.
The controversial proposal, which would have applied to all prescription
drugs that cost more than $35 for a one-month supply, was scheduled to go into
effect over the summer until it was blocked by Federal Judge Amit Mehta of
the US District Court for the District of Columbia.
Judge Mehta ruled that HHS does not have the regulatory
power to force pharmaceutical companies to include the prices of prescription
drugs in their TV ads and that the agency had violated laws passed by Congress.
“That policy very well could be an effective tool in halting
the rising cost of prescription drugs. But no matter how vexing the problem of
spiraling drug costs may be, HHS cannot do more than what Congress has
authorized,” Mehta wrote in his decision, NPR
Drug companies Amgen
(NASDAQ:AMGN), Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY) and Merck (NYSE:MRK) along with the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) filed
lawsuits over the regulation stating it was a violation of their free speech
rights. They won the reprieve on July 8, just one day before the regulation would
have gone into effect.
Mehta stated in his opinion
that the Social
Security Act, which HHS used as its basis for the regulation, does not
“empower HHS to issue a rule that compels drug manufacturers to disclose list
In August, the Trump administration filed an appeal after the
federal judge struck down the regulation. The exact basis for that appeal has
not been disclosed.
Drug Companies Decry New Law as Unconstitutional
Many drug makers are not happy with the rule. Drug industry
trade group Pharmaceutical Research and
Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) believes that mandating drug companies to
disclose pricing in TV commercials is a violation of their First Amendment
rights, STAT reported.
Nevertheless, PhRMA proposed that pharmaceutical companies
provide a web link in their TV advertisements that directs consumers to pricing
information online. And some companies also are experimenting with going a step
further and voluntarily complying with the original regulation.
In a news
release, PhRMA states, “To help patients make more informed healthcare
decisions, [PhRMA] member companies today announced their commitment to
providing more transparency about medicine costs. PhRMA member companies’
direct-to-consumer (DTC) television advertisements will soon direct patients to
information about medicine costs, including the list price of the medicine,
out-of-pocket costs, or other context about the potential cost of the medicine
and available financial assistance. The biopharmaceutical industry will also
launch a new platform that will provide patients, caregivers, and providers
with cost and financial assistance information for brand-name medicines, as
well as other patient support resources.”
However, Azar said that action is not in compliance with the
rule. “They put $4 billion a year into television advertising because the
television ad is where people are getting their information, and to point them
to the internet would be the equivalent of saying that they should simply be
putting their ads on the internet and not running them on TV,” he told the
press, STAT reported.
Opponents of the rule noted that actual drug costs for
consumers can vary widely depending on coverage and that patients might forgo
their medications if they are concerned about the costs, reported Politico
following passage of the measure in May.
Critics also claimed that that there were no enforcement
mechanisms outlined for companies that did not comply with the ruling, and that
it relied on the pharmaceutical industry to police itself. If a particular
company failed to include the required information in its TV ads, competitors
could file suit against it under the deceptive and unfair trade practice
provisions of the Lanham Act,
Solutions to the public’s demand for price transparency in
healthcare may be forthcoming. However, at press time, no further information
concerning the status of this HHS regulation was available. Dark Daily
will continue to monitor the situation and inform readers of any developments.
Meanwhile executives and pathologists at the nation’s
clinical laboratories should continue to develop strategies to serve patients
who want to know the prices of their medical laboratory tests before they arrive
to have their specimens collected.
This summer, several pharma companies may have succeeded in
getting a federal court to stop this particular rule to disclose prescription
drug prices. But the trend toward price transparency has deep roots and will
First used to track cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, blockchain is finding its way into tracking and quality control systems in healthcare, including clinical laboratories and big pharma
Four companies were selected by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to participate in a pilot program that will utilize blockchain technology to create a real-time monitoring network for pharmaceutical products. The companies selected by the FDA include: IBM (NYSE:IBM), Merck (NYSE:MRK), Walmart (NYSE:WMT), and KPMG, an international accounting firm. Each company will bring its own distinct expertise to the venture.
This important project to utilize blockchain technologies in
the pharmaceutical distribution chain is another example of prominent
healthcare organizations looking to benefit from blockchain technology.
Clinical laboratories and health insurers also are collaborating on blockchain projects. A recent intelligence briefing from The Dark Report, the sister publication of Dark Daily, describes collaborations between multiple health insurers and Quest Diagnostics to improve their provider directories using blockchain. (See, “Four Insurers, Quest Developing Blockchain,” July 1, 2019.)
Improving Traceability and Security in Healthcare
Blockchain continues to intrigue federal officials, health network administrators, and health information technology (HIT) developers looking for ways to accurately and efficiently track inventory, improve information access and retrieval, and increase the accuracy of collected and stored patient data.
In the FDA’s February press release announcing the pilot program, Scott Gottlieb, MD, who resigned as the FDA’s Commissioner in April, stated, “We’re invested in exploring new ways to improve traceability, in some cases using the same technologies that can enhance drug supply chain security, like the use of blockchain.”
Congress created this latest program, which is part of the federal US Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) enacted in 2013, to identify and track certain prescription medications as they are disseminated nationwide. However, once fully tested, similar blockchain systems could be employed in all aspects of healthcare, including clinical laboratories, where critical supplies, fragile specimens, timing, and quality control are all present.
The FDA hopes the electronic framework being tested during
the pilot will help protect consumers from counterfeit, stolen, contaminated, or
harmful drugs, as well as:
reduce the time needed to track and trace
enable timely retrieval of accurate distribution
increase the accuracy of data shared among the
network members; and
help maintain the integrity of products in the
distribution chain, including ensuring products are stored at the correct
Companies in the FDA’s Blockchain Pilot
IBM, a leading blockchain provider, will serve as the
technology partner on the project. The tech giant has implemented and provided
blockchain applications to clients for years. Its cloud-based platform provides
customers with end-to-end capabilities that enable them to develop, maintain,
and secure their networks.
“Blockchain could provide an important new approach to further improving trust in the biopharmaceutical supply chain,” said Mark Treshock, Global Blockchain Solutions Leader for Healthcare and Life Sciences at IBM, in a news release. “We believe this is an ideal use for the technology because it can not only provide an audit trail that tracks drugs within the supply chain; it can track who has shared data and with whom, without revealing the data itself. Blockchain has the potential to transform how pharmaceutical data is controlled, managed, shared and acted upon throughout the lifetime history of a drug.”
Merck, known as MSD outside of the US and Canada, is
a global pharmaceutical company that researches and develops medications and
vaccines for both human and animal diseases. Merck delivers health solutions to
customers in more than 140 countries across the globe.
“Our supply chain strategy, planning and logistics are built around the customers and patients we serve,” said Craig Kennedy, Senior Vice President, Global Supply Chain Management at Merck, in the IBM news release. “Reliable and verifiable supply helps improve confidence among all the stakeholders—especially patients—while also strengthening the foundation of our business.”
Kennedy added that transparency is one of Merck’s primary
goals in participating in this blockchain project. “If you evaluate today’s
pharmaceutical supply chain system in the US, it’s really a series of handoffs
that are opaque to each other and owned by an individual party,” he said,
adding, “There is no transparency that provides end-to-end capabilities. This
hampers the ability for tracking and tracing within the supply chain.”
Walmart, the world’s largest company by revenue, will
be distributing drugs through their pharmacies and care clinics for the
project. Walmart has successfully experimented using blockchain technology with
other products. It hopes this new collaboration will benefit their customers,
“With successful blockchain pilots in pork, mangoes, and leafy greens that provide enhanced traceability, we are looking forward to the same success and transparency in the biopharmaceutical supply chain,” said Karim Bennis, Vice President of Strategic Planning of Health and Wellness at Walmart, in the IBM news release. “We believe we have to go further than offering great products that help our customers live better at everyday low prices. Our customers also need to know they can trust us to help ensure products are safe. This pilot, and US Drug Supply Chain Security Act requirements, will help us do just that.”
KPMG, a multi-national professional services network
based in the Netherlands, will be providing knowledge regarding compliance
issues to the venture.
“Blockchain’s innate ability within a private, permissioned
network to provide an ‘immutable record’ makes it a logical tool to deploy to
help address DSCSA compliance requirements,” said Arun Ghosh, US Blockchain
Leader at KPMG, in the IBM news release. “The ability to leverage existing
cloud infrastructure is making enterprise blockchain increasingly affordable
and adaptable, helping drug manufacturers, distributors, and dispensers meet
their patient safety and supply chain integrity goals.”
The FDA’s blockchain project is scheduled to be completed in
the fourth quarter of 2019, with the end results being published in a DSCSA
report. The participating organizations will evaluate the need for and plan any
future steps at that time.
Blockchain is a new and relatively untested technology
within the healthcare industry. However, projects like those supported by the
FDA may bring this technology to the forefront for healthcare organizations,
including clinical laboratories and pathology groups. Once proven, blockchain
technology could have significant benefits for patient data accuracy and
Silicon Valley startup is using gene sequencing to identify in the bloodstream free-floating genetic material shed by tumors
There has been plenty of excitement about the new diagnostic technologies designed to identify circulating tumor cells in blood samples. Now, a well-funded Silicon Valley startup has developed a blood test that it says holds promise for detecting early-stage lung and other cancers.
Though experimental, the screening test—which uses gene sequencing to identify in the bloodstream cancer-signaling genetic material shed by tumors—would be a boon for clinical laboratories and health networks. It also could play a role in advancing precision medicine treatments and drug therapies.
“There is an unmet need globally for early-detection tests for lung cancer that can be easily implemented by healthcare systems,” lead study author Geoffrey Oxnard, MD (above), said in the Dana-Farber news release. “These are promising early results and the next steps are to further optimize the assays and validate the results in a larger group of people.” (Photo copyright: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.)
According to the news release, researchers in this initial analysis explored the ability of three different prototype sequencing assays, each with 98% specificity, to detect lung cancer in blood samples:
“The initial results showed that all three assays could detect lung cancer with a low rate of false positives (in which a test indicates a person has cancer when there is no cancer),” the Dana-Farber news release noted.
Identifying Disease Risk Before Symptoms Appear
Screening tests help identify individuals who are not displaying disease symptoms but may be at high risk for developing a disease. GRAIL’s goal is to develop a test with a specificity of 99% or higher. This means no more than one out of 100 people would receive a false-positive.
Otis Brawley, MD, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer at the American Cancer Society, points out that specificity is important when developing a population-based screening test that ultimately would be given to large portions of the general public based on age, medical history, or other factors.
“I am much more concerned about specificity than sensitivity [true positive rate], and [GRAIL] exhibited extremely high specificity,” Brawley told Forbes. “You don’t want a lot of false alarms.”
Some cancer experts have a wait-and-see reaction to GRAIL’s initial results, due in part to the small sample size included in the sub-study. Benjamin Davies, MD, Associate Professor of Urology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and an expert on prostate cancer screening, told Forbes the early data was “compelling,” but the number of patients in the study was too small to generate excitement.
Oxnard, however, believes the initial results validate the promise of GRAIL’s blood screening test project.
“I was a skeptic two years ago,” Oxnard, a GRAIL consultant, told Forbes. “I think these data need to put a lot of the skepticism to rest. It can be done. This is proof you can find cancer in the blood, you can find advanced cancer, therefore this has legs. This has a real future. It’s going to be many steps down the line, but this deserves further investigation and should move forward.”
Researchers next plan to verify the initial results in an independent group of 1,000 CCGA participants as part of the same sub-study. They then will attempt to optimize the assays before validating them in a larger data set from CCGA, the Dana-Farber news release explained.
Illumina, a sequencing-technology developer, formed GRAIL in 2016, with participating investments from Bill Gates, Bezos Expeditions and Sutter Hill Ventures. Since then, GRAIL has attracted other high-flying investors, including Amazon, Merck, Johnson and Johnson, and Bristol-Myers Squibb.
Forbes notes that as of 2018 GRAIL has raised $1.6 billion in venture capital and has a $3.2 billion valuation, according to private market data firm Pitchbook. Last year, GRAIL merged with Hong Kong-based Cirina Ltd., a privately held company also focused on the early detection of cancer.
While GRAIL’s projects hold promise, anatomic pathologists and clinical laboratories may be wise to temper their enthusiasm until more research is done.
“We all would like to dream that someday you’d be able to diagnose cancer with a blood test,” Eric Topol, MD, Executive Vice President and Professor of Molecular Medicine at Scripps Research, told Forbes. Topol says he’s “encouraged” by GRAIL’s methodical approach, but warns: “We’re at the earliest stage of that.”
Few anatomical tools hold more potential to revolutionize the science of diagnostics than biomarkers, and pathologists and medical laboratories will be first in line to put these powerful tools to use helping patients with chronic diseases
Clinical laboratories rely on biomarkers for pathology tests and procedures that track and identify infections and disease during the diagnostic process. Thus, trends that highlight the critical role biomarkers play in medical research are particularly relevant to pathology groups and medical laboratories.
Here’s an overview of critical trends in biomarker research and development that promise to improve diagnosis and treatment of chronic disease.
Emerging Use of Predictive Biomarkers in Precision Medicine
PM involves an approach to healthcare that is fine-tuned to each patient’s unique condition and physiology. As opposed to the conventional one-size-fits-all approach, which looks at the best options for the average person without examining variations in individual patients.
Predictive biomarkers identify individuals who will most likely respond either favorably or unfavorably to a drug or course of treatment. This improves a patient’s chance to receive benefit or avoid harm and goes to the root of Precision Medicine. (Image copyright: Pennside Partners.)
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines PM as “an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that considers individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.” It gives physicians and researchers the ability to more accurately forecast which prevention tactics and treatments will be optimal for certain patients.
Combining Drugs for Specific Outcomes
Cancer treatment will be complimented by the utilization of combination drugs that include two or more active pharmaceutical ingredients. Many drug trials are currently being performed to determine which combination of drugs will be the most favorable for specific cancers.
Combination drugs should become crucial in the treatment of different cancers treatments, such as immunotherapy, which involves treating disease by inducing, enhancing, or suppressing an immune response.
Biomarkers associated with certain cancers may enable physicians and researchers to determine which combination drugs will work best for each individual patient.
Developing More Effective Diagnostics
In Vitro diagnostics (IVDs) are poised for massive growth in market share. A report by Allied Market Research, states the worldwide IVD market will reach $81.3 billion by 2022. It noted that IVD techniques in which bodily fluids, such as blood, urine, stool, and sputum are tested to detect disease, conditions, and infections include important technologies such as:
Allied Market Research expects growth of the IVD market to result from these factors:
Increases in chronic and infectious diseases;
An aging population;
Growing knowledge of rare diseases; and
Increasing use of personalized medicines.
The capability to sequence the human genome is further adding to improvements in diagnostic development. Pharmaceutical companies can generate diagnostic counterparts alongside related drugs.
Biopsies from Fluid Sources
Millions of dollars have been spent on developing liquid biopsies that detect cancer from simple blood draws. The National Cancer Institute Dictionary of Cancer Terms defines a liquid biopsy as “a test done on a sample of blood to look for cancer cells from a tumor that are circulating in the blood or for pieces of DNA from tumor cells that are in the blood.”
At present, liquid biopsies are typically used only in the treatment and monitoring of cancers already diagnosed. Companies such as Grail, a spinoff of Illumina, and Guardant Health are striving to develop ways to make liquid biopsies a crucial part of cancer detection in the early stages, increasing long-term survival rates.
“The holy grail in oncology has been the search for biomarkers that could reliably signal the presence of cancer at an early stage,” said Dr. Richard Klausner, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Grail.
Grail hopes to market a pan-cancer screening test that will measure circulating nucleic acids in the blood to detect the presence of cancer in patients who are experiencing no symptoms of the disease.
Clinical Trials and Precision Medicine
The Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), launched by the federal government in 2015, investigates ways to create tailor-made treatments and prevention strategies for patients based on their distinctive attributes.
Two ongoing studies involved in PMI research are MATCH and TAPUR:
MATCH (Molecular Analysis for Therapy Choice) is a clinical trial run by The National Cancer Institute. The researchers are studying tumors to learn if they possess gene abnormalities that are treatable by known drugs.
TAPUR (Targeted Agent and Profiling Utilization Registry), is a non-randomized clinical trial being conducted by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). The researchers are chronicling the safety and efficacy of available cancer drugs currently on the market.
New Tools for Pathologists and Clinical Laboratories
The attention and funds given to these types of projects expand the possibilities of being able to develop targeted therapies and treatments for patients. Such technological advancements could someday enable physicians to view and treat cancer as a product of specific gene mutations and not just a disease.
These trends will be crucial and favorable for clinical laboratories in the future. As tests and treatments become unique to individual patients, pathologists and clinical laboratories will be on the frontlines of providing advanced services to healthcare professionals.