drug delivery systems Archives - European Industrial Pharmacists Group (EIPG)

The EU Parliament voted its position on the Unitary SPC


by Giuliana Miglierini The intersecting pathways of revision of the pharmaceutical and intellectual property legislations recently marked the adoption of the EU Parliament’s position on the new unitary Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC) system, parallel to the recast of the current Read more

Reform of pharma legislation: the debate on regulatory data protection


by Giuliana Miglierini As the definition of the final contents of many new pieces of the overall revision of the pharmaceutical legislation is approaching, many voices commented the possible impact the new scheme for regulatory data protection (RDP) may have Read more

Environmental sustainability: the EIPG perspective


Piero Iamartino Although the impact of medicines on the environment has been highlighted since the 70s of the last century with the emergence of the first reports of pollution in surface waters, it is only since the beginning of the Read more

Trends for the future of the pharmaceutical manufacturing

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By Giuliana Miglierini

The technological evolution of pharmaceutical manufacturing towards the full implementation of the Industry 4.0 paradigm is rapidly advancing. Digitalisation of productions is supported by the wide spread of automation, devices connected to the Internet of Things, and machine learning algorithms able to keep entire processes under control. Looking at pharmaceutical development, new types of treatments are emerging, also requiring a retuning of current approaches. Results from a survey among experts and industry insiders (56 respondents from 13 different countries) run by Connect in Pharma show new challenges are to be faced in the incoming years by the pharmaceutical industry in order to maintain its market position.

The combined value of the global pharmaceutical market in 2022 is estimated to be approx $650 billion. The main component reflects pharmaceutical manufacturing (US$ 526 billion in 2022, data Insight Slice), while the global pharmaceutical packaging market value is roughly US$131 billion (data Fact.MR).

Many different factors supporting the transformation of pharmaceutical manufacturing have been identified by Connect in Pharma, ranging from ageing of population to Covid19 and Ukraine crisis, to climate change and pressures on energy costs, up to the shortage of healthcare professionals. The final conclusions and opportunities identified by the report indicate new partnerships and collaborations (mainly with startups, and small and medium-sized companies) will remain fundamental to support competitiveness, together with growing investments in tech-driven innovations. Involvement of patients and healthcare professionals in identifying unmet needs and optimal solutions is another item to be considered in order to increase adherence to therapy, suggests the report.

Digitalisation still waiting to full exploit its potential

Innovation in automation and digitalisation of processes has been introduced in the pharmaceutical sector at a slower pace compared to other industrial sectors, due to its higher regulatory barriers. About one third (28%) of respondents to the survey indicated their companies are developing artificial intelligence (AI) or other digital tools for application in the manufacturing and packaging process. The main drivers towards the implementation of such systems are more efficient data collection, reduction of manufacturing down times and human errors, and the use of machine learning to support continuous manufacturing. Better workflow integration and anticounterfeiting, and the ability to share supply chain data with regulators are also relevant. These are all objectives that would need to provide new specific training to the workforce, e.g. on AI or tools for augmented reality.

One of the main barriers that, according to the report, is still slowing down the full potential of AI and digitalisation in the pharmaceutical industry is represented by the need to comply to regulations, including data integrity and security. The human factor may also prove relevant, as many people (including top management) may be reluctant to accept this change in technology. The availability of data scientists with a deep knowledge of the pharmaceutical sector is another critical point to be addressed.

Advances in drug delivery technologies

Connect in Pharma’s report also shed light on some drug delivery technologies that, despite not being an absolute novelty, are gaining relevance for the development of new products and treatments.

The moving of pharmaceutical pipelines towards a continuously increasing number of new biologic / biosimilar products, including mRNA-based and gene therapies, requires the availability of manufacturing and packaging capacities able to accommodate the specific needs of such often very unstable macromolecules. New drug delivery systems have been developed in recent years to provide answers to this need, among which is inhalation technology.

Dry powder inhalers and nasal delivery devices are the preferred formulations for the 50% of respondents to the survey that indicated actions are ongoing to develop new products using inhalation technologies. According to the report, these devices might prove particularly useful to deliver drugs that need to rapidly pass the blood-brain barrier in order to become effective, as well as for the delivery of vaccines. Fast absorption and higher bioavailability compared to other routes of administration are other elements of interest for inhalation technologies, which is also believed to be able to contribute to the reduction of carbon footprint.

Once again, the regulatory environment resulting from the entry into force of the EU Medical Devices Regulation (especially for drug-device combination products), together with the need to demonstrate patient safety and satisfactory bioavailability of these devices, are among the main barriers to their development, says the report. Inhalation technologies may also give rise to a new generation of delivery devices connected to the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT).

Another major trend identified by Connect in Pharma refers to the development of new drug delivery systems for injectable medicines (50% of respondents). This area is greatly impacted by the entry into force of the revised Annex 1 to GMPs, on 25 August 2023, that will increase the requirements for aseptic manufacturing. According to the report, main areas of innovation in this field may include new devices for injectable drug delivery, namely targeted to diabetes (the leading area of innovation), intravitreal ocular injection, autoimmune diseases, oncology, respiratory therapy, and pain management.

Connected devices

Diabetes is a highly relevant field of innovation also with respect to the implementation of connected devices, those embedded sensors and electronics allow for the real-time collection of data on self-administration of the therapy by patients, and their forwarding to health professionals. AI algorithms further enhance the potential of connected devices delivering diabetes treatments, as they support the real-time monitoring of insulin concentration in blood, and the consequent level of insulin delivered by the device. According to Connect in Pharma, other positive characteristics arising from the use of connected devices refer to the possible increase of patient adherence and compliance to treatment, resulting in improved patient outcomes and more personalised treatment.

Regulatory barriers are once again a main burden to the wider spread of connected devices, says the report, due for instance to the ultimate control over the sharing of data, and the choice if to implement single-use or reusable devices. Manufacturing costs, cybersecurity, and patient hesitancy are other hurdles identified by respondents to the survey.

The challenges for sustainability

The green policies put in place especially in the EU are calling industry to revise its processes and products to decrease their environmental impact, improve sustainability of manufacturing and packaging processes, so to eventually meet the climate targets fixed for 2050. According to the report, the global healthcare sector would be responsible for 4.4% of global net emissions. Connect in Pharma’s survey indicates 66% of involved companies are working to implement more sustainable practices. These may include for example the use of recycled materials in secondary packaging, the implementation of energy efficient technologies, and the development of more ecofriendly drug delivery systems. Costs have been identified as the main barrier to transition, together with the lack of common definitions. According to some of the experts, a wider use of data to monitor manufacturing systems and processes may help in improving the overall efficiency and in lowering the carbon footprint. Transport, for example, has a great impact on the sustainability of packaging.


Investing in formulation as success’ factor

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by Giuliana Miglierini

Formulation is a critical step in the development of new medicinal products, as it directly influences the bioavailability, release profile and stability of the active ingredient, overall impacting on both the efficacy and safety of the medicine.

While in the traditional approach the definition of the final formulation was a quite late step along the development process, new models of R&D greatly focus on early formulation as a way to optimise both time and costs of drug development. It is thus important to identify the optimal formulation strategy as early as possible: a quite challenging goal in many instances, especially in the case of last generation complex biopharmaceuticals which may prove difficult to formulate. An article by Felicity Thomas, published in Pharmaceutical Technology discusses how to address early formulation strategies to maximise the chance of success.

Limits and challenges of formulation

The main objective of the drug development process remains the same, reducing as much as possible the time-to-market so to fully exploit the marketing exclusivity period granted by the patents protecting an innovative medicine.

To this instance, some key aspects should be considered in order to rapidly establish the most appropriate formulation, with a special attention to achieving an early access to first-in-human assessment and proof-of-concept studies.

Scaling-up of the formulation process is another critical issue, as it requires a careful consideration of all the steps needed to establish the final manufacturing process at the commercial scale. This exercise is fundamental in order establish the critical quality attributes and process parameters, thus reducing the risk of a change of the initial formulation to make it suitable to the final manufacturing process.

As explained by Jessica Mueller-Albers, strategic marketing director Oral Drug Delivery Solutions, Evonik, the increased pressure to speed up formulation is also connected to the fact “many new drugs target small therapeutic areas, where it is essential for pharma companies to be first in the market from an economic perspective.”

The availability of enabling technologies is fundamental to early formulate niche medicinal products, moving away from the classical mass production. The trend initiated with the development of mRNA Covid-19 vaccines may represent a change of paradigm in drug development, suggests Jessica Mueller-Albers. Lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) are an example of enabling technology that has been widely employed to formulate the mRNAs used in Covid-19 vaccines. LNPs may take many different forms, i.e. liposomes, lipoplexes, solid lipid nanoparticles, nanostructured lipid nanoparticles, microemulsions, and nanoemulsions (see more in Drug Development and Delivery).

Other types of emerging technologies are also widely investigated, such as proteolysis-targeting chimeras (PROTACS). These are heterobifunctional nanomolecules, containing one moiety recognised by the E3 ligase and chemically linked to a ligand (small molecule or protein) able to bond to the target protein. The final outcome is the formation of a trimeric complex, through which it becomes possible to transfer ubiquitin molecules to the target protein. The mechanism represents an alternative approach to “knock down”, as it enables the degradation of the target protein, offering many advantages compared to the use of classical inhibitors.

Another challenge to be faced during formulation development is the need of a broad and specialised expertise in the different domain of drug development, including also material characterisation, drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics. According to Stephen Tindal, director, Science & Technology, Europe, Catalent, this is particularly true for small companies, which are often the focus of early development activities before acquisition of the projects by larger multinationals. As explained in the Pharmaceutical Technology’s article, a possible approach is to use small teams of experts to manage the preclinical phases of development.

The many challenges of early formulation

The solubility of the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) in aqueous media is often one of the main challenges to be faced in formulation studies, impacting also on the final bioavailability of the drug in the target body compartments and/or fluids. Estimates indicates that at least 70% of new APIs are poorly soluble.

Other challenging points to be taken into consideration include the possible presence of different polymorphic forms, each characterised by its own stability and properties, and potentially giving rise to conversion from one another during the formulation and/or manufacturing process (see more in the article by A. Siew, Pharmaceutical Technology). The often limited amount of API in the early phases of development and the difficulty to evaluate the dose range on the basis of the available data are other critical point to be considered.

The development of an appropriate bioavailable formulation is often based on preclinical data obtained from animal pharmacokinetic and GLP toxicity studies, followed by pre-formulation studies to assess API’s properties (e.g. solubility, stability, permeability, etc.) in commonly used solvents and bio-relevant media. Drug delivery systems might be used to solve solubility issues, to then scale the identified formulation on the selected technology platform to be used for manufacturing (see more in Drug Development and Delivery).

The principles of the Developability Classification System (DCS) may be also considered to better assess the physicochemical and biopharmaceutical characteristics of a new API that may impact of the formulation process.

Some possible approaches to early formulation

The experts interviewed by Felicity Thomas have indicated some possible approaches useful to addresses formulation issues. For systemic oral small-molecule drugs, for example, the use of a solution as the delivery vehicle may allow to reduce the needed amount of API, thus supporting lower costs to reach Phase I proof of concept in healthy volunteers. Various techniques are also available to favour solubilisation and bioavailability of the active ingredient, i.e. hot-melt extrusion, spray drying, coated beads, size reduction, lipid-based approaches, etc. The optimisation of particle size by mean, for example, of micronisation and nanomilling techniques is another option. Co-administration with lipids can enhance the lymphatic transport of lipophilic drugs, as it favours its incorporation into chylomicrons at the intestinal level, and the subsequent delivery to the lymphatic system in the form of chylomicron–drug complexes.

Many algorithm-based platforms and predictive models are also available to support formulators in the selection of excipients and solubilisation methods, avoiding the need of extensive testing. The implementation of real-time adaptive manufacturing is another possible tool, useful to optimise the formulation on the basis of emerging clinical data.