Often, once an active ingredient has been purified, it cannot stay in purified form for long. In many cases it will denature, fall out of solution, or stick to the sides of the container. To stabilize the active ingredient, excipients are added, ensuring that the active ingredient stays "active", and, just as importantly, stable for a sufficiently long period of time that the shelf-life of the product makes it competitive with other products. Thus, the formulation of excipients in many cases is considered a trade secret.
Pharmaceutical codes require that all ingredients in drugs, as well as their chemical decomposition products are identified and guaranteed to be safe. For this reason, excipients are only used when absolutely necessary and in the smallest amounts possible.
Binders ensure that tablets and granules can be formed with required mechanical strength. Binders are usually starches, sugars, cellulose or modified cellulose such as hydroxypropyl cellulose, lactose, or sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol or maltitol.
Binders are classified according to their application:
Tablet coatings protect tablet ingredients from deterioration by moisture in the air and make large or unpleasant-tasting tablets easier to swallow. For most coated tablets, a cellulose (plant fiber) film coating is used which is free of sugar and potential allergens. Occasionally, other coating materials are used, for example synthetic polymers, shellac, corn protein zein or other polysaccharides. Capsules are coated with gelatin.
They ensure that when the tablet is in contact with water, it rapidly breaks down into smaller fragments, thereby facilitating dissolution. Examples of disintegrants include: starch, cellulose, crosslinked polyvinyl pyrrolidone, sodium starch glycolate, sodium carboxymethyl cellulosemethycellulose.
Fillers fill out the size of a tablet or capsule, making it practical to produce and convenient for the consumer to use. By increasing the bulk volume, the final product has the proper volume for patient handling.
A good filler must be inert, compatible with the other components of the formulation, non-hygroscopic, soluble, relatively cheap, compactible, and preferably tasteless or pleasant tasting.
Plant cellulose (pure plant filler) is a popular filler in tablets or hard gelatin capsules. Dibasic calcium phosphate is another popular tablet filler. A range of vegetable fats and oils can be used in soft gelatin capsules.
Lubricants prevent ingredients from clumping together and from sticking to the tablet punches or capsule filling machine. Lubricants also ensure that tablet formation and ejection can occur with low friction between the solid and die wall.
Some typical preservatives used in pharmaceutical formulations are
Sweeteners are added to make the ingredients more palatable, especially in chewable tablets such as antacid or liquids like cough syrup. Therefore, tooth decay is sometimes associated with cough syrup abuse. Sugar can be used to disguise unpleasant tastes or smells.