Drug Delivery Processes Look to Technology for Improvements

Pharma IQ

As with any industry, pharmaceutical firms are always looking for ways to improve drug formulation and delivery in order to enhance customer experience as well as cut costs and streamline processes. It is also hoped that by working on these areas, market leaders can cut the length of time it takes to get drugs on shelves and, ultimately, treating those who need them.

However, there are two main stumbling blocks to truly innovative drug formulation and delivery, namely, what consumers are comfortable using and purchasing and the most effective way to distribute pharmaceuticals throughout the body. Solubility is a key issue here, with many firms investing significant amounts into the development of new technologies that would enable researchers to discover new solutions to an old and ongoing problem.

Currently those in the drug development sector suggest that consumers are happy with medication delivered through tablets as this is a form people are familiar with and understand how to use. Producing medications in tablet form is also an inexpensive task for pharmaceutical firms and they are fairly discrete and inoffensive as they are so commonplace. However, this traditional way of doing things has its drawbacks given the emergence of new technology.

Tablets, capsules and caplets offer non-specific delivery sites, as the medication needs to be dissolved in the stomach and then distributed around the body, meaning they are not necessarily as effective or fast-acting as other alternatives. Delivering drugs in this way also offers poor levels of absorption and, because higher concentrations must be used to combat this, also tend to have more side-effects.

However, the only potential alternatives to oral drug delivery are inhalers, injectors, nebulisers and infusion pumps and these come with their own set of challenges. Unlike tablets, all of these drug delivery methods are fast-acting and targeted, as a result they also carry far fewer side-effects – a potential benefit for consumers. However, pharmaceutical studies have revealed that patients are uncomfortable using these products. In addition to this, as the delivery method is so alien to patients, if they are required to do it themselves, as with diabetes injections for example, they will require training, while a poor technique will have a negative effect on treatment.

The main challenge that the industry faces then is whether the solubility of drugs delivered orally can be improved to negate the negatives of this method as, being the least expensive and most widely accepted method, it makes the most business sense in the current economic climate.

Recently, Encap Drug Delivery and Lena Nanoceutics announced a joint venture to develop a new drug delivery technology to address the current weaknesses in oral drug delivery using expertise acquired by Lena into nano-particle engineering technology and Encap's progress into liquid filled hard capsules.

The pair suggested that more needs to be done to improve absorption of poorly soluble and poorly absorbed drugs, claiming that at the moment there are a number of new technologies emerging that aim to improve bioavailability, as it is called. In a press statement, both organisations explained that the approach to combine nano-particles with liquid fill formulations works because nano-particles have a larger surface area and will therefore dissolve more quickly, adding that in some cases this has been shown to improve the bioavailability of the active drug.

"We believe that there are considerable synergies to be achieved by combining the nano-particle and liquid fill technologies particularly for low solubility and low permeability compounds," said Dr. Stephen Brown, CEO at Encap. Preliminary data from the collaboration has shown improved dissolution rates compared to standard alternatives but it is likely that there is still much to do before tablets become the best drug delivery option.

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