Challenges in Topical Drug Manufacturing

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Equipment and Processing Report

Equipment and Processing Report, Equipment and Processing Report-09-19-2012, Volume 0, Issue 0

Critical process parameters must be considered to optimize manufacturing of topical dosage forms.

An ideal topical formulation can be produced using a simple, flexible process. Most topical formulations developed today, however, are complex and therefore require very tightly controlled processing parameters. Following are five critical process parameters that must be considered to optimize the manufacturing process for topical dosage forms. Part II, which describes additional strategies, will appear in the October issue of the Equipment and Processing Report

  • Temperature

Processing at the right temperature is crucial for successful manufacturing. Too much heating during processing can result in chemical degradation. Insufficient heat can lead to batch failures, and excess cooling can result in the precipitation of solubilized ingredients. An example of the need for good temperature control is the emulsification step of a traditional oil-in-water emulsion. If the temperature of the water phase is much cooler than that of the oil phase, the melted constituents of the oil phase may solidify upon introduction into the aqueous phase and never properly form the emulsion, possibly even resulting in solid matter in the batch.


  • Rates of heating and cooling

Heating too slowly can result in poor yields from evaporative loss. Heating too rapidly may burn areas of the batch in contact with the heating surface, which raises the potential for burnt material in the batch. Rapid cooling can result in precipitation/crystallization or increased viscosity. The successful consistency of ointments, for example, depends on proper rates of heating and cooling.

  • Mixing methods and speeds

It is essential to determine the required amount of shear and the optimal mixing methods and speeds. Emulsification typically requires high shear or homogenization to obtain the optimal droplet size and dispersion, while the mixing of a gel may require low shear in order to preserve certain physical characteristics, such as viscosity. Proper mixing speeds must be obtained for each phase at every batch scale. Optimal hydration depends on the amount of shear imparted to initially disperse the polymer into the medium. If the process involves only very low shear mixing, a polymer may never be completely dispersed and hydrated, which may result in an out-of-specification viscosity.

  • Mixing times

Optimizing mixing time requires identifying the minimum time required for ingredients to dissolve and the maximum mixing time before product failure (e.g., when viscosity begins to drop). For polymeric gels, particularly acrylic acid-based types, over-mixing, especially high shear, can break down the polymer’s structure. In an emulsion, over-mixing may cause the product to separate prematurely, resulting in a drastic decline in viscosity.

  • Flow rates

Optimizing flow rate involves determining the amount of shear or throughput needed. For example, a water-in-oil emulsion may require a slower addition speed than a traditional, oil-in-water emulsion, and the flow rate must be modified appropriately. Care must be taken for any product using a pump. Overshearing can occur if the formulation is pumped too quickly. If pumping is too slow, the formulation will experience extra time in an in-line homogenizer, thus also exposing the formulation to additional shear.

Two processes that require experimentation to optimize flow rates are the use of a powder eduction system and an in-line homogenizer. Theoretical calculations can determine the number of times a sample will pass through either, but actually performing the experiments is necessary to achieve optimal results.

Raw material dispersers and in-line homogenizers require proper flow rates for optimal usage. If the product is not flowing through a disperser at the proper rate, there will not be enough suction for properly incorporating the powders. Suction can be tested by measuring the vacuum being pulled at the inlet of the disperser with a vacuum/pressure gauge. Monitoring the flow rate when using an in-line homogenizer is necessary in order to calculate the theoretical number of times the product passes through it.

Michael Lowenborg is R&D manager at DPT Laboratories.