Multiparticulates is a matrix made of a class of particles or compounds of different properties.



Pellets are one of multiparticulate pharmaceutical forms and can offer numerous technical and biopharmaceutical advantages compared with single dose unit formulations, e.g. tablets and capsules. This study aimed at formulation of controlled-release pellets of doxazosin mesylate (DM), a widely used treatment for antihypertensive and benign prostatic hyperplasia. DM was loaded onto microcrystalline cellulose CELLETS® pellets using hydroalcoholic solution and alcoholic suspension layering techniques to achieve a minimum drug load of 4 mg DM/g pellets. DM-layered CELLETS were coated by Aquacoat dispersion (ready-made ethylcellulose dispersion) using a coating pan technique as a simple and widely utilized technique in pharmaceutical industry. Controlled-release DM-layered pellets showed a release profile comparable to the controlled-release commercial product Cardura® XL Tablet. Also, the mechanism of DM release from Aquacoat CELLETS® was mathematically modeled and imaged by scanning electron microscopy to elucidate drug release mechanisms from the prepared pellet formulations. Accelerated stability studies of the prepared pellets were performed under stress conditions of 40 °C, and 75 % RH for 3 months. In conclusion, preparation of controlled-release DM-layered CELLETS® is feasible using a simple and conventional coating pan technology. Read more about controlled-release doxazosin mesylate pellets.


H. A. Hazzah, M. A. EL-Massik, O. Y. Abdallah & H. Abdelkader, Journal of Pharmaceutical Investigation (2013), 43:333–342. doi:10.1007/s40005-013-0077-0

Additional information

CELLETS® are perfect starter beads for coating and layering of API, such as doxazosin mesylate. Multilayer formulation attempts enable defined release profiles and improved bioavailability. Check different pellet sizes from 100 µm to 1400 µm which fit to your formulation.

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Multiparticulates made of pellets are ideal dosage forms to be used in pediatrics. Having the suitability of paediatric consumers in mind, formulations of small-sized pellets offer a valuable base for increased compliance and improved age-appropriately dosage form. Due to their round shape of pellets, smooth surface area and narrow particle size distribution they can easily be functionally coated [1] to achieve e. g. a taste masking, enteric protection or the controlled release of the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) in defined parts of the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract. The release profile then often depends on the coating weight gain (thickness) and composition of the functional coating.

Coating weight gain, manufacture and analysis of pellets

A well soluble drug was used as model API.  In a first approach, pellets were produced applying the ProCell technology, a direct pelletization process allowing the production of highly drug loaded matrix pellets (here 95%) in a spouted bed. Two types of pellets were produced: A) with a poly amino saccharide-based binder, followed by a cellulose based seal coating and B) with a polyacrylic acid-based binder, followed by a pH-depending coating. In a second approach the API was layered onto inert starter cores (MCC, CELLETS® 200) by the aid of a cellulose based binder and antitacking agent applying the Wurster technology targeting a drug load of 50 %, followed by a pH-depending coating (C). All three pellets-based populations were functionally coated by a pH-independent sustained release polymer. Samples were taken at pre-defined coating levels for dissolution testing. For API layering and coating a GPCG 1.1 with a 6” Wurster insert was used. Direct pelletization was performed in a ProCell 5. Particle size distribution (PSD) analysis was performed by Eyecon2TM. The particle size is given as numeric or volumetric distribution (e.g. Dn50 or Dv50). The specific surface area is calculated by measuring the true density by gas pycnometry and the Sauter diameter by Laser diffraction. Dissolution was measured in the acid stage (0.1 M HCl), in buffer pH 5.5 and in buffer pH 7.2 over 300 min. The API should not be released in the first 180 min. Between 210 min and 240 min an increased drug release is expected. The dissolution rates at 225 min were compared for the coating levels at 10, 15 and 20 %.


With increasing coating weight gains decreasing dissolution rates at 225 min were measured for the sustained release coating with a good linearity. Matrix PEL (A) show higher dissolution rates comparing the same coating levels than Matrix PEL (B), Wurster pellets showed the strongest decrease with increasing CWG, table 1, figure 1. This correlation was not observed for pH-depending coating (data not shown).

Dv 50 [µm] Dn 50 [µm] PSD mean [µm] Specific surface area [m2/g]
A Matrix PEL 496 475 481 0,00980
B Matrix PEL 461 427 425 0,01210
C Wurster PEL 414 396 401 0,01100

Table 1. PSD data and specific surface area of starter beads before functional coating.

coating weight gain

Figure 1. Dissolution at 225 min vs. coating weight gain (CWG)


Drug loaded pellets were prepared either as matrix pellets applying the ProCell technology, or by layering of starter cores applying the Wurster technology. Both populations were coated with different coating levels of a sustained release functional coating, resulting in decreasing dissolution rates with increasing coating weight gain. Due to the good correlation between coating weight gain and dissolution profile a prediction of the dissolution rate might be possible for pre-defined coating levels. These findings are a crucial step towards novel paediatric formulations with improved dissolution profiles and dosage safety.


[1] Palugan, L.; Cerea, M.; Zema, L.; Gazzaniga, A.; Maroni, A. Coated pellets for oral colon delivery, Journal of Drug Delivery Science and Technology 25, 1 – 15 (2015).

This study was presented on 14th annual EuPFI conference, Rome, Italy.



Starter beads such as pellets made of microcrystalline cellulose (MCC) are frequently used in the formulation of oral drug delivery systems, e.g. multiparticulates [1] or multi-unit pellet system (MUPS) tablets [2]. Certain properties are requested to MCC pellets. We shed some light on sphericity size and friability in this note.

Starter beads for MUPS tablets

MUPS tablets consist of pellets which are compressed – assisted by excipients such as disintegrants and fillers. The pellets used are usually functional coated to achieve desired drug release profiles.


Top: Inert Cellets® 100 (100-200 µm, left) in comparison with another MCC sphere (75-212 µm, right). Bottom: Inert Cellets® 200 (200-350 µm, left) in comparison with another MCC sphere (150-300 µm).

Figure 1: Top: Inert Cellets® 100 (100-200 µm, left) in comparison with another MCC sphere (75-212 µm, right). Bottom: Inert Cellets® 200 (200-350 µm, left) in comparison with another MCC sphere (150-300 µm).

The characteristics of the starter bead as a neutral carrier should therefore include high sphericity (Figure 1), constant particle size distribution and smooth surface. These aspects count especially for the formulation of low dosed highly active APIs.

For the application in MUPS tablets small size and high mechanical stability (low friability) are of interest to achieve desired drug loading and avoid film damage during compression.


Any question relating to optimized drug load and coating layers of pellets is a question of size and sphericity of the starter beads.

So, what is the main influence of size? Size needs to be considered for achieving desired drug load in relation to a total dimension of the pellet. While the total dimension of the pellet is mainly defined by the application – e.g. processing as a capsule, tablet or sachet –, the initial pellet size defines the maximum thickness of coating levels (Figure 2). Size might also be a matter of content uniformity with low dosed API and also needs to be mentioned by means of processability, which is in particular electrostatic loading or sticking. Particle size distribution influences the dissolution profile.


Figure 2: Sketch of a functionally coated pellet. The size of the initial pellet (green) defines the maximum thickness of all coating layers (blue) which may contain API and excipients, as well.

Figure 2: Sketch of a functionally coated pellet. The size of the initial pellet (green) defines the maximum thickness of all coating layers (blue) which may contain API and excipients, as well.


Sphericity is a strong parameter which influence depends on drug loading and coating levels. Also for the control of dissolution profile where specific surface area and content uniformity play important roles, the influence of sphericity needs to be understood (Figure 3). Please do not forget, that with decreasing sphericity, the flow probabilities of powders are decreasing (powder rheology), which might affect process properties such as powder transport.


Figure 3: Sketch of non-spherical starter beads (green) with coating layers (blue). Coating layer thickness and dissolution profiles are hard to control in this case.

Figure 3: Sketch of non-spherical starter beads (green) with coating layers (blue). Coating layer thickness and dissolution profiles are hard to control in this case.

Thus, starter beads of uniform size (distribution) and sphericity are the better solution for overcoming these issues by simplifying drug formulation and processing. Such starter beads can be pellets of MCC, sugar or tartaric acid. MCC pellets surely show perfect initial conditions as they exhibit chemical inertness and therefore can be combined with several APIs. In case of weakly basic APIs, tartaric acid pellets are advantageous.


Figure 4: A pellet inside a compressed MUPS tablet. The starter bead is surrounded by a coating layer of exemplarily excipient or API. A powdery excipients matrix surrounds the coated pellet. Friability is absolutely low.

Figure 4: A pellet inside a compressed MUPS tablet. The starter bead is surrounded by a coating layer of exemplarily excipient or API. A powdery excipients matrix surrounds the coated pellet. Friability is absolutely low.

Figure 4 shows a cross-section of a pellet in the matrix of a compressed MUPS tablet. It is mentionable, that due to low friability a high degree of sphericity as well as surface smoothness are kept after compression and film damage of coating layers is not identified.


Cellets® offer a perfect combination of chemical inertness towards the selection of the API and physical properties that allow optimized and stable processing in a fluid bed process for layering and coating of the starter beads. Main advantages are the low friability, smooth surface, sphericity and narrow size distributions.

Cellets® starter beads therefore provide excellent conditions for controlled drug dissolution profiles.


We acknowledge Fraunhofer IFAM (Dresden, Germany) for providing electron microscopic images.


[1] Pöllinger N, Drug Product Development for Older Adults—Multiparticulate Formulations. In: Stegemann S. (eds) Developing Drug Products in an Aging Society. AAPS Advances in the Pharmaceutical Sciences Series, vol 26 (2016). Springer, Cham.

[2] Bhad ME, Abdul S, Jaiswal SB, Chandewar AV, Jain JM, Sakarkar DM. MUPS tablets—a brief review. Int J Pharm Tech Res. 2010;2:847–55