Pharma's bread and butter is still made with powder

Pharmaceutical CommercePharmaceutical Commerce - January/February 2016

Despite a flurry of specialty pharmaceuticals in innovative formats, traditional powder-based dosages will always be a mainstay

Dealmaking in the pharma sector reached an all-time high in 2014, and data from 2015 thus far suggests an equally strong showing. Much of the activity has been generated by Big Pharma looking to buy up smaller companies with promising new drugs. Other activity was borne as a result of companies looking to replenish drug pipelines following patent expiration, expansion into emerging markets and the desire to streamline.

M&A activity, combined with the need for innovation, is accounting for much of today’s advancement in the pharma sector. And as this barrage of change occurs, it is certainly understandable that particular attention is being paid to new specialty pharmaceuticals, such as injectable liquid biologics and other promising new formats.

There are “new news” and, often, “wow” factors involved with many of these drugs that help them claim the lion’s share of both editorial exposure and boardroom chatter. But beyond these shooting stars, it’s worth remembering one constant: Traditional, powder-based oral solids have been the pharma industry’s reliable guiding light, and will continue to play this Polaris-like role well into the foreseeable future.

Ingestible powders as a dosage form have been around for quite a while, and for good reason. Oral dosage forms such as tablets and capsules are widely considered the most patient-acceptable dosage form, utilized by patients and medical professionals for their convenience and ease of handling. These forms also are extremely stable and offer high manufacturing throughputs that typically result in exceedingly favorable economics.

Powder as an oral suspension preserves the more basic dosage form and retains many of the same positive characteristics, such as stability. Powders now come in a variety of packaging configurations that offer the consumer many options. Stick packs serve the need of low unit-dose cost and portability. Sachets are seen as convenient and cost-effective. The package with probably the most tenure, bottles, provides the customer with a bulk, multidose option.

All of these options share the benefit of convenience and favorable manufacturing economics. Encapsulation and coated tablets have been the cornerstone for extended release and slower absorption and for this attribute, will most likely continue their dominance into the future. However, in cases when swallowing a large tablet or capsule is not suitable for the consumer, oral suspension powders are a highly sought-after alternative that also bring the benefit of faster absorption. When the benefits of powders are added to, for example, a favored experience of mixing in a beverage of choice, this dosage form and delivery option can far exceed that of its competition in terms of overall customer satisfaction.

The drive to innovate has led many on a journey to find new dosage forms and new ways to deliver. Inhalation and transmucosal methods of delivery are not new but offer an alternative method of delivery. 2015 witnessed the debut of several new delivery methods, such as Bidirectional Breath-Powered technology from OptiNose US Inc., which offers consistent drug delivery deep in the nasal cavity that far exceeds traditional inhalation methods.

Powders are also helping to make major inroads in the area of digestive health. Increasing the number of good bacteria in our GI tract by taking probiotic supplements is proving to increase overall health. This is not limited to physical health but also has benefits to our emotional well-being that, often, is adversely affected by increasingly stressful lifestyles. As this category grows, the demand for the traditional powder-based dosage form is also witnessing market buzz and demand surges.

Innovative work is also currently being conducted to develop a proprietary unit dose package solution that, for customers, will offer enhanced consumption and convenience while maintaining reliable affordability. The new package will be a highly automated, injection-molded solution, and will maintain the stability requirements of its predecessors. Retailers will realize the benefits of better shelf space utilization, and this new packaging concept will also offer flexibility to meet customer requirements in labeling and secondary packaging. Several current market segments are void of unit dose options and, with the introduction of this packaging solution, new levels of portability and convenience can be attained. In addition, the new concept seeks to enable pharma industry goals of environmental sustainability by utilizing recyclable materials. The package should be complete and ready for integration into new and existing products in early 2016. Whether it is innovation of delivery or activity within the basic powder category, every indication is that powders are here to stay.


Bryan Cox is VP of Supply Chain for Pharma Tech Industries, a leading contract manufacturer to some of the world’s most trusted health and wellness brands. Pharma Tech’s cGMP service offering includes manufacturing, packaging, injection molding, technology transfer, project management, process and packaging development, and quality assurance testing covering product platforms such as powders, effervescents, capsules, solid dose, plastic components, medical device, and swabs, among others.

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