Conventional tablets may no longer be the go-to solution

Market study reveals difficulties swallowing tablets wide-spread and opens up new revenue opportunities

Hermes Pharma, the expert in the development and production of user-friendly solid oral dosage forms, has revealed the findings of an international survey exploring the nature of difficulties swallowing tablets and how people are affected. The impartial quantitative study was conducted by Spiegel Institut Mannheim, a renowned international third party provider. It targeted 1,000 people in the US and Germany – more than 2,000 in total – tailored to reflect overall population demographics in terms of age, gender and ethnicity, and to generate statistically reliable data.

The key findings of the report are as follows:

  • Over 55% of people suffer from swallowing difficulties when taking tablets or capsules - all age groups and genders are affected
  • Conventional tablets and capsules show significant weaknesses compared with alternative solid dosage forms
  • Swallowing difficulties are likely to have a negative impact on compliance
  • Besides being easy to swallow, pharmaceutical products need to appeal to a wider range of personal needs to be effective

The oral route is considered a simple and cost-efficient method of delivery, with most pharmaceutical products and food/dietary supplements traditionally formulated as solid tablets or capsules. However, consumer habits and demands are changing. Today’s patients have grown accustomed to having freedom of choice and the benefits of convenience. They also enjoy instant access to a wealth of information, leading them to request specific products and treatments.

To deliver medical and commercial success, pharmaceutical products will need to appeal to a wider range of preferences, from treatment needs through to lifestyle requirements. Entitled A Hard Truth to Swallow, the study found that conventional tablets and capsules exhibit a range of drawbacks and may no longer be the best solution for large segments of the population.

Difficulties swallowing tablets are wide-spread

Over half of the people surveyed (50% in the US; more than 60% in Germany) reported difficulties when swallowing tablets or capsules. Some 44% of participants 65 years or older were affected and interestingly, an even greater number (70%) of younger people aged 16-34 also reported this problem. A wide variety of reasons were cited, but the most frequent were related to tablets or capsules being too large to swallow, becoming stuck in the throat and having an unpleasant taste or odour.

To overcome these difficulties, participants had turned to breaking tablets before swallowing (32% overall) or crushing them up and dissolving them in water (17%), both of which can affect API release profile, bioavailability and medical efficacy. Worryingly, 8% resorted to not taking their medication at all.

User experience counts

Participants were asked to evaluate tablets/capsules and alternative, user-friendly dosage forms such as effervescent and chewable tablets, instant drinks, orally-disintegrating granules and lozenges based on their experience. They consistently scored conventional tablets and capsules lower on characteristics such as ease of swallowing, sensation in the mouth, package opening and ease of intake.

Introducing products that are easy to swallow, convenient to take and taste pleasant is likely to improve patient experience, increase compliance, and boost the effectiveness of treatment. Designing dosage forms to target different cultures, ages and preferences provides a means of better meeting the needs of specific market subsets. By creating user-friendly dosage forms, companies can differentiate themselves from competition, expand existing product lines, prolong product lifecycles, breed customer loyalty and at the same time increase revenues.

'By offering an active ingredient solely as a tablet or capsule, pharmaceutical and life sciences companies ignore the needs of more than 50% of their target audience,' emphasised Dr Thomas Hein, Director Business Development and Regulatory Affairs, Hermes Pharma. 'Given the weaknesses exhibited by conventional tablets and capsules, there is a significant opportunity to capture market share by formulating user-friendly dosage forms.'

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