THE ORIGINS GELATIN is a translucent, colourless, tasteless solid substance that is produced by the hydrolysis of collagen (the main component of connective tissue, and the most common protein in mammals) extracted from the bones and tissue of animals such as cattle, pigs, goats, horses and poultry. It is widely used in the food, photography and cosmetic manufacturing industries. One of its main uses in the pharma industry is in the manufacture of capsules.
VEGETABLE-BASED capsules are manufactured from cellulose, a complex carbohydrate found in green plants, wood etc. HPMC solubility
OLD AND NEW THE FIRST patent for a gelatin-shelled capsule was granted in 1834 to pharmacist Joseph Gérard Auguste Dublanc and pharmacy student François Achille Barnabé Mothès.
VEGICAPS was the trademark under which the first HPMC (hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, a semisynthetic inert material produced from water and cellulose) capsules were produced in 1989; the first patent for HPMC shells had been granted nearly four decades earlier in 1950.
STRENGTHS STABILITY and hardness of gelatin makes it easier to handle; its stability has been a key reason for its prolonged use in the pharma industry.
ORIGINS of cellulose make it more attractive to people who are forbidden from, or uncomfortable with, ingesting animal products — halal or otherwise — due to religious or ethical reasons. Cellulose-based capsules are 100 per cent vegetarian.
WEAKNESSES GELATIN capsules, apart from being ‘non-vegetarian’, are not suitable for liquids or gel fillings.
HPMC shell walls being much weaker than gelatin-made shells, handling and filling these capsules have their own problems. They require the use of gelling agents, which in turn affects dissolution rates inside the body.
COSTS, AVAILABILITY GELATIN is cheap, and its use has contributed to the cost advantage that Indian pharma companies have had in the international market. One metric tonne costs $ 1,000-$ 6,000.
hydroxyethylcellulose CELLULOSE capsules are yet to be manufactured in India on a large scale, so companies are not willing to make predictions of cost yet. There is agreement, however, that cellulose would be costlier. Empty shells cost $ 6-$ 9 per kg in the international market.