Industry Perspectives: Achieving Solutions for the Challenge of Poorly Water-Soluble Drugs

A multifaceted approach is needed to resolve the myriad of challenges in developing oral formulations of poorly soluble drugs.
Jun 02, 2013
Volume 37, Issue 6

Image Courtesy of Catalent Pharma Solutions
Bringing a drug candidate to successful commercialization is always a challenging task, but it is one that has been made more difficult through the increase of poorly water-soluble drugs. It is estimated that 40% of new drug compounds may be regarded as poorly soluble with that percentage even higher for certain therapeutic classes (1). Improving the oral absorption and bioavailability of poorly soluble drugs is crucial for pharmaceutical companies seeking to bring efficacious drugs to patients in dosing regimens and product forms that are easy to use, affordable, and facilitate patient compliance.

To understand the extent of this challenge and the technologies for bioavailability/solubility enhancement, Pharmaceutical Technology partnered with the Catalent Applied Drug Delivery Institute (see sidebar, "Advancing drug delivery") in the second annual Catalent–Pharmaceutical Technology Landscape Drug Delivery Survey. The study surveyed formulation scientists involved with oral product development in pharmaceutical companies in the United States, Canada, and Europe to understand their key concerns and the technologies used to resolve problems of solubility and bioavailability. The results showed that there are a myriad of technical concerns attendant to solubility/bioavailability and many factors have to be taken into consideration in deciding which approach is optimal for a given API.

Adding complexity to formulations

Consistent with the 2012 survey (2), solubility/bioavailability enhancement remains a major issue. Ninety-two percent of the 2013 survey respondents have worked with Biopharmaceutics Classification System (BCS) Class II (low solubility, high permeability) or Class IV (low solubility, low permeability) compounds, and half always or often work with these compounds.

A poorly soluble compound adds to the complexity of formulation development. "Countless poorly soluble compounds never reach human clinical studies," comments Kurt Nielsen, PhD, chief technology officer and senior vice-president of R&D at Catalent Pharma Solutions. "Better understanding the chemistry of the drug, solubilizers (e.g., polymers, surfactants, and lipids) and the various salt/crystal forms can get more drug candidates through preclinical testing."

Figure 1: Problems encountered when developing oral formulations of poorly soluble APIs. (ALL FIGURES COURTESY OF AUTHORS)
The survey results confirm these observations. The two top problems identified by respondents when working with poorly soluble drugs were optimizing the drug-release profile (71% of respondents cited) and stability (66% cited) (see Figure 1). More than half (58%) cited difficulties in identifying excipients with optimal properties, and 49% identified excipient–API interactions as a concern. As would be expected, permeability and absorption in the gastrointestinal tract were also key issues.

Figure 2: Frequency of challenges when developing a formulation for a poorly soluble API.
Figure 2 provides more in-depth insight. Fifty-three percent of respondents said that stability of the API was either "always" or "often" a challenge, and 46% cited inter- and intra-patient variability. Other formulation challenges, such as dose uniformity and the food effect on absorption, also were commonly encountered problems (see Figure 2). "Often times, the bioavailability of a poorly soluble drug increases when given with high-fat meals," explains Catalent's Nielsen. "The changes in bioavailability induced by food can negatively impact assessment of safety and efficacy. In addition, eliminating the food effect simplifies dosing instructions for patients," he adds.

Other concerns, such as swallowing/taste masking, were cited as frequent problems by 35% of respondents. "Child- and senior-friendly products rely on taste masking for dosing convenience," says Nielsen. "Poorly soluble drugs often need multiple technologies in the same engineered particle to achieve the required taste profile."

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