In the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, encapsulation refers to a range of techniques used to enclose medicines in a relatively stable shell known as a capsule, allowing them to, for example, be taken orally or be used as suppositories. The two main types of capsules are hard-shelled capsules, which are normally used for dry, powdered ingredients, and soft-shelled capsules, primarily used for oils and for active ingredients that are dissolved or suspended in oil. Both of these classes of capsule are made both from gelatine and from plant-based gelling substances like carrageenans and modified forms of starch and cellulose.
Since their inception, capsules have been viewed by consumers as the most efficient method of taking medication. For this reason, producers of drugs such as OTC analgesics wanting to emphasize the strength of their product developed the "caplet" or "capsule-shaped tablet" in order to tie this positive association to more efficiently-produced tablet pills. After the 1982 Tylenol tampering murders, capsules experienced a minor fall in popularity as tablets were seen as more resistant to tampering.
Soft gel encapsulation
In 1834, Mothes and Dublanc were granted a patent for a method to produce a single-piece gelatin capsule that was sealed with a drop of gelatin solution. They used individual iron moulds for their process, filling the capsules individually with a medicine dropper. Later on, methods were developed that used sets of plates with pockets to form the capsules. Although some companies still use this method, the equipment is not produced commercially any more. All modern soft-gel encapsulation uses variations of a process developed by R.P. Scherer in 1933. His innovation was to use a rotary die to produce the capsules, with the filling taking place by blow molding. This method reduced wastage, and was the first process to yield capsules with highly repeatable dosage.
Two-part gel capsules
James Murdock patented the two-part telescoping gelatin capsule in London in 1847. Basically, the capsules are made in two parts by dipping metal rods in molten gelatin solution. The capsules are supplied as closed units to the pharmaceutical manufacturer. Before use, the two halves are separated, the capsule is filled with powder (either by placing a compressed slug of powder into one half of the capsule, or by filling one half of the capsule with loose powder) and the other half of the capsule is pressed on. The advantage of inserting a slug of compressed powder is that control of weight variation is better, but the machinery involved is more complex.
- Sims, Calvin (February 15, 1986). "Despite "mystique" of capsules, many drugs work in other forms". New York Times.
- "History of dosage forms and basic preparations". Encyclopedia of Pharmaceutical Technology. 7. Informa Health Care. 1998. pp. 304–306. ISBN 0824728068.
- Bill Bennett and Graham Cole (2003). Pharmaceutical Production, an Engineering Guide. IChemE. pp. 126–129. ISBN 0852954409.
- L. Lachman, H.A. Lieberman, J.L. Kanig (1986). The Theory and Practice of Industrial Pharmacy (3rd Ed.). Lea & Febiger, Philadelphia. ISBN 0-8121-0977-5.