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Hidden heroes

Active ingredients are the lead actors in the world of pharmaceuticals. Hidden heroes, however, are often the ones that determine when, where, how, and how long the effects of a medication are actually felt.

Some 80 percent of all medications are administered orally, but that has not always been the case. It was not until 1996 that a US pharmaceuticals manufacturer introduced pain tablets onto the market in which the active agent, oxycodon, was not released in the body all at once, but was instead made available gradually. Up to that point, tablets containing the active had had severe side-effects. The rapid release of the active ingredient made overdosing a particularly critical concern—a problem that, in some cases, proved fatal. Another challenge reared its head in the early 2000s: the invention, which had actually been quite effective, yielded significant side-effects in combination with the alcohol that patients consumed. In response, the US government passed the STOPP (Stop Tampering of Prescription Pills) Act in 2012, and pharmaceutical companies have since been required to take active steps to prevent improper use of medications.

Here they have had Evonik’s help: thanks to the various formulation technologies that the company offers, pharmaceutical manufacturers can create virtually any conceivable release profile—making sure the active substance will be released at the right time and in the right place. The technologies are based on EUDRAGIT® polymers, which allow the experts to take advantage of the fact that medications encounter different pH values as they travel through the gastrointestinal tract. The environment in the stomach, for instance, is highly acidic, with a pH of around 1 to 3. The farther the medication advances into the intestines, the greater the rise in pH. Depending on the composition of the EUDRAGIT® product, the medicine will dissolve either in the stomach or in the intestines, allowing for targeted delivery of the active ingredients.

Another concept from Evonik, EUDRATEC® ADD, is a solution that allows medications to have the same effects in the presence of alcohol as they do in its absence—ensuring that they will be safe to use.

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