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Abstract

Microcrystalline cellulose pellets (MCC) and sugar are well-known materials in pellet technology. Pellet technology describes the drug load onto starter pellets for controlled release formulations by Wurster process or others. Inert pellets are made of microcrystalline cellulose, while water soluble pellets are composed of sugar. Both material classes show desirable characteristics, such as a narrow particle size distribution, sphericity, surface smoothness. Also the batch-to-batch reproducibility and robustness of starter cores is high. A comparison does not seem to be that easy …

Starter cores in the micron range

Respecting the final application, the initial size of starter pellets defines the final size of the drug loaded pellet. In case of several layers of API and excipients, the initial size is factorized by the layering process. Pellet sizes in a range from 200 µm to 700 µm are frequently used (Table 1). We will focus on three size classes within this range and compare MCC pellets with those made of sugar.

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Figure 1: MCC pellets (here: Cellets® 200) are shown with good sphericity and striking surface smoothness.

Small-sized pellets starting at 200 µm

Small-sized pellets with sizes starting at 200 µm and larger, exhibit a comparably large surface-to-volume ratio. This can be beneficial in some applications. For example, taste-masking of bitter API is accessible.

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Figure 2: Sugar pellets (here: 50/70 mesh) are shown with moderate sphericity and reduced surface smoothness.

Figure 1 displays a microscopic image of MCC Cellets® 200 and Figure 2 displays the image of sugar pellets in 50/70 mesh, respectively. It is obvious, that for small-sized pellets, the sphericity and surface smoothness of MCC pellets is superior.

Size MCC Sugar
small Cellets® 200 50/70 mesh
Medium Cellets® 350 40/50 mesh
large Cellets® 500 25/30 mesh

Table 1: Size definition of MCC and sugar pellets.

Mid-sized pellets up to 500 µm

This class of pellets is frequently used for multi-layer coating technologies. Easy processing and reliable batch-to-batch control are positive aspects. Exemplary application is a hydrocortisone formulation for peadiatrics. Again, Figure 3 (MCC pellets) and Figure 4 (sugar pellets) show advantages in surface properties for the MCC material.

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Figure 3: MCC pellets (Cellets® 350) are shown.

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Figure 4: Sugar pellets (40/50 mesh) are shown

Large-sized pellets above 500 µm

In some applications, larger pellet sizes are requested. Let’s have short excurse into straws which can contain larger pellets in dry state. Upon use by sucking liquid through the straw, the API coating dissolves immediately while the pellet remains in the straw by simple filters.

In this size range the striking advantages of MCC pellets are not of immediate importance, but still visible.

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Figure 5: MCC pellet above 500 µm (Cellets® 500).

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Figure 6: Sugar pellet above 500 µm (25/30 mesh).

Summary

Microcrystalline cellulose pellets (Cellets®) show superior surface and sphericity properties compared to sugar pellets. In case of non-dissolving applications, MCC pellets are first choice. As sugar pellets exhibit strong dissolution in water, there is still a fair application range for them.

Authors

Dr. Bastian Arlt

MUPS_image_4

Abstract

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.

CS_MUPS_image_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).

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.

Size

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.

CS_MUPS_image_2

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

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.

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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.

MUPS_image_4

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.

Summary

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.

Acknowledgement

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

Authors

Dr. Bastian Arlt

References

[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. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-43099-7_16

[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