Comment on Part of What’s New in 3D Printing?

  • Author: Lee Cronin
  • Published Date: 17 February 2014
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA

This article describes some of the work going on in my lab (Cronin lab) but unfortunately the author appears to misinterpret a quote made by me in a previous Guardian article [3] on my work where I say, in relation to the 3D printing synthetic chemistry idea: “I don’t imagine gangsters printing their own drugs, no.”

The context of this quote was simple, there are much easier ways to achieve such goals and the aims of our work are to explore if chemical synthesis can be made quicker, simpler, cleaner, cheaper, and also open up access for the many millions if not billions of people that do not have access to essential ‘simple’ drugs. Some of these drugs are ‘out of print’, i.e., no longer made.

However, the author instead goes on to comment “Gangsters would certainly be interested in it. But there may also arise other concerns, such as counterfeit or falsified medicines, drugs of abuse, recreational drugs, illegal narcotics, etc., as well as simple misuse of regular medicines without any control.“

Now, the author is entitled to their own opinion, but in the same article from which my quote was taken I also explained our ideas very clearly by saying “What would this mean? Well for a start it would potentially democratise complex chemistry, and allow drugs not only to be distributed anywhere in the world but created at the point of need. It could reverse the trend, Cronin suggests, for ineffective counterfeit drugs (often anti-malarials or anti-retrovirals) that have flooded some markets in the developing world, by offering a cheap medicine-making platform that could validate a drug made according to the pharmaceutical company's "software".”

But the author of this article ignored this context and chose to say “We believe that the action of the Cronin group in domain of drugs is naïve, if not irresponsible.”

Once again the author is entitled to this opinion but I suggest that this opinion was arrived at selectively and asserts we are being irresponsible without any evidence. This is indeed a rather unfortunate assessment, especially as the author did not see fit to contact me for a direct quote/discussion about these issues which I would be very happy to discuss. Many aspects of science are potentially dangerous but it is our job to work ethically, with high standards of safety, laboratory controls and so on. For the author to come to the conclusion we are irresponsible is without merit. Indeed we believe that this work could start a very positive debate if any such devices were to become available. I’d also like to point out that chemical robots like DNA synthesizers are already available to the non-chemist for gene assembly and could also be used for ‘bad’ reasons but are then all biologists that use such machines acting irresponsibly? Or was the very act of creating a DNA synthesizer irresponsible? The key point is that we are trying to think about synthetic chemistry in a new way to make important molecules more available/accessible than now, but we are not proposing a free-for-all.

By disseminating these ideas ahead of time we are taking a positive and active part of the ‘responsible innovation’ pathway which allows policy makers, the public, and professional bodies to debate the possible consequences way ahead of time. We believe that this type of openness and transparency in science and innovation is crucial to build trust, debate the possible benefits, and for all of us to take a shared responsibility in how our future unfolds. One possible outcome could be debating the benefits of drugs being available more widely say to save lives where poorer people have no access to medicines of any sort vs. potential misuse of drugs by richer people. In fact, this thought process could allow developments in digital rights management for synthesis of molecules protecting the information in such a way that the process of illegal drug synthesis would be as difficult as just doing it in a normal chemistry laboratory in the first place.

[3] T. Adams, The 'chemputer' that could print out any drug, The Guardian 2012, July 21. Link

article commenting on:
H. Dodziuk, What's New in 3D Printing?, ChemViews Mag. 2014. DOI: 10.1002/chemv.201300064

Article Views: 2553

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Magazine of Chemistry Europe (16 European Chemical Societies)published by Wiley-VCH