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HP uses inkjet tech to aid medication production

March 11, 2013

HP's D300 machine

HP’s D300 machine

The OEM’s R&D teams have created a machine to help scientists develop new medications.

PopSci discusses the OEM’s work on transferring inkjet technology into a pharmaceutical arena, with its Direct Digital Dispenser, or HP D300. The machine, 10 years in the making, utilises printhead technology from the OEM’s inkjet machines to help scientists and researchers create new medications for use in healthcare.

Noting that scientists at Astra Zeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and SIGA Technologies have already been using the machine, PopSci adds that the latter company has already developed an experimental medication to be given to people diagnosed with smallpox “too late for a vaccine to help”.

The technology stems from the Officejet Pro X’s printhead, which contains 42,240 nozzles that jet out inkjet drops of six picoliters each. HP realised that the technology could be adapted, and wanted to aid the pharmaceutical processes used to make new medicines. Joe Dody, Business Manager of Speciality Printing Systems for HP, stated that the OEM “imagined the application and we worked with customers to convince ourselves and the industry that we were creating value in doing it”.

Dody added that his department “gained support from HP to make a business out of it”, and thus research began, with the process of titration – whereby droplets of chemical compounds are dropped onto slides with pipettes – the area in which the machine comes into operation. Such a process requires “weeks and months of painstaking repetition and recording” as well as a large “margin for human error”, which the D300 aims to prevent.

The Officejet Pro X

The Officejet Pro X

Dody added: “A researcher applies between 200,000 to a million drops of the compound to test against the disease target and they hope that 10,000 are actually hits. Then they can determine what’s common between molecules and what’s the dose at which these drug molecules are causing a positive interaction with disease.”

This process means that 95 percent of the work can end up wasted, take up 10 15 years and cost billions of dollars, and Dody adds “that is where we come in”, with the D300 allowing biologists to place drops of compound into the machine, which deposits it as it would ink onto a page. With 13 picoliter droplets, the machine can help scientists figure out “which concentration works” with a high degree of accuracy”.

The article notes that much trial and error was experienced before the D300 was able to be used in a laboratory, with a silicon treatment needed to stop the compounds “drooling”, a job a sponge would often do in an inkjet cartridge. Two solutions were found, with one finally used that utilises an “inert firing chamber” and prevents “cross contamination”.

Dody stated that “it took us about a year to figure it out” and that “if you didn’t find a solution you would have to make a hard business decision or scrap the project […] the stakes were high”. He added: “The scale of our core printing business allows us to make a refined tool at a cost that is cheap to [drug companies]. This is the first time the world has a reliable way to dispense at the picoliter level.”

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