GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) appointed 42 Technology (42T) to evaluate existing powder dispensing approaches that could be scaled
for highspeed manufacturing.
42T suggested an innovative precision powder dispensing technology, now known as Sticky Web, which can accurately 'print'
powdered APIs onto edible or inert adhesive surfaces to create a novel dosage form.
GSK has now granted 42T worldwide pharmaceutical rights to the technology.
Powder handling is technically challenging at the best of times, but accurately filling capsules with milligram quantities
of potent APIs at the manufacturing speeds and outputs required for a blockbuster product adds another layer of complexity.
Manufacturers usually overcome this hurdle by bulking out actives with excipients and using mixtures for tablet pressing or
capsule filling; however, there is considerable commercial interest in developing highspeed manufacturing technologies that
can dispense pure active powders. A technology that can accomplish this is Sticky Web.
Henrik Weis/Getty Images
According to Keith Smith, Manager of GSK's strategic technologies department, the core technology was first proposed as a
result of some "shrewd research" by 42T. "GSK first appointed 42T to conduct an independent strategic technology review and
to evaluate existing, credible powder dispensing approaches that could potentially be scaled for high-speed manufacturing.
We already knew of some commercial systems claiming speeds of up to 15000 doses/h, but these typically involved check weighing
or volumetric techniques, which are often unsuitable for some pure APIs that require careful handling," said Smith. "The consultancy
team responded not only with a detailed review of the options, but with some great new ideas of their own — including the
approach we now call Sticky Web."
Sticky Web is a scalable technology capable of accurately dispensing 0.1–100 mg of powder, with a variety of particle size
distributions, onto edible or inert adhesive webs or surfaces. Accuracies are typically greater than 4% and the technology
can deliver commercial manufacturing speeds of up to 60000 doses/h.
Henrik Weis/Getty Images
Developing the technology
Sticky Web takes its name from a simple discovery by one of 42T's engineers, based on the following theory: when a piece of
adhesive parcel tape is dipped into powder and the excess shaken off, the quantity left adhering is directly proportional
to the surface area of the tape. The exact quantity depends on the combined properties of the specific adhesive and powder,
but even the very first tests conducted by 42T showed consistent coverage rates of approximately 1.5 mg/cm2 with accuracies greater than ±10%.
These results led GSK and 42T to quickly establish a joint development team to create a stronger technology platform and improve
the dosing accuracy — in some cases to within ±2.5%. The team studied a range of APIs with widely varying physical properties
and further tested the applicability of the technology.
The author says...
The development programme progressed quickly to deliver the core approach, as well as several adhesives and designs for a
prototype production machine. A number of key patent applications were also secured.
Dispensing the powder
The powder dispensing head and process are critical to the Sticky Web approach. The web, which is preprinted with adhesive
further up the production line, passes around a drum where powder from a vibrating hopper is applied through drum apertures
or masks to the sticky areas; any excess is tapped off using a vibrating paddle. The technique delivers uniform coverage for
freeflowing powders, as well as powders that have dry clumping behaviours. It is also gentle enough for powders that require
very careful handling to prevent degradation or any loss of activity.