Looking at the processing side, the excipients' characteristics will always depend on the final product. When manufacturing a blend, for example, it is important for the excipient to have a particle size appropriate for manufacturing. Additionally, there should be virtually no dusting within production. When the powder dusts heavily you will encounter difficulties in sealing the sachets properly because the powder will stick to the seal. Manufacturers will then loose a certain amount of the powder, which disappears into the vacuum system.
One answer to the issues mentioned above is to use multifunctional excipients. These combine technical (physical and chemical) and sensorial properties; however, these are very recent on the market and are facing the challenge of replacing traditional excipients that have been used for years.
Another challenge in manufacturing powder formulations relates to equipment. The idea of sachets as direct oral application dosage form was originally developed in the confectionery sector and so is not new to many food manufacturers. Within the pharmaceutical sector, however, there is a time lag in implementing such a nonestablished processing technology because of regulatory issues and lack of experience, and we find that few manufacturers have the necessary equipment to fill sachets — in particular, you need flat pouch machines that enable the form, fill, weigh and seal of the sachet. One way of overcoming equipment needs, however, is to use a CMO.
In my eyes, innovation in powder formulations is mainly about taste masking, aftertaste and mouthfeel. APIs can be very bitter and need to be taste-masked successfully to develop a palatable product. If the dissolution rate of the API cannot be affected, masking can be very challenging. There are basically two broad approaches to achieve this: creating a barrier between the taste bud and drug, or overwhelming the unpleasant taste. Flavour houses do a great job of developing technologies to mask the bitter taste of APIs and these developments can be regarded as real innovations in improving the market penetration of direct oral applications form. Also, excipient manufacturers have launched new products such as aqueous polymer coating materials that facilitate taste masking. Such coatings release the API at the right pH, but not its bitter taste in the oral cavity.
In the future, I think that sachet applications for the OTCmarket will emerge as a crossover between confectionery and pharma, which used to be absolutely contradictory. Pharmaceutical products have a rather clean appeal, but are associated with chemicals and illness, whereas the confectionery arena always tries to create a positive image by attracting consumers with new packaging, new ideas and positioning. Of course, you can't and shouldn't compare all pharmaceuticals with confectionery! However, when it comes to patient appropriateness, I personally think that manufacturers should think about adopting some ideas from the confectionary industry, including form, appeal and marketing. This could possibly be done with sachets. To do this, packaging will be decisive — packaging is the outer appearance of a product and thus gives the first impression. Nowadays, various ways of packaging are possible; for instance, packaging can improve shelf life and identification. Sachets reflect a rediscovered dosage form in the pharmaceutical sector and combine innovative packaging with attractive palatability, which can help improve patient compliance.
Today, new technical possibilities in terms of excipients and packaging concepts are available, and excipient manufacturers — particularly those who have experience in the confectionery market — are well prepared to serve the pharmaceutical industry with the products and concepts needed to facilitate the development of powder formulations. I believe that companies that can adapt manufacturing and marketing concepts fast will be able to gain a good market share.