Ibrahim Belo Written by Ibrahim Belo

How is sugar used in the pharmaceutical industry?

From bulking agents to grain sizes – we’ve come a long way from just a “spoonful of sugar”

What is an excipient?

An excipient is an inactive substance that acts as the dosage vehicle for an active drug. In the pharmaceutical industry, sugar often occupies this role, performing functions ranging from adding bulk and consistency to tablets, to making unpleasant tasting medicines palatable. The sugar used for this is usually either pharma grade sucrose or invert sugar syrup.

Alongside taste and texture, sugar is also used as a pharmaceutical excipient in tablets and capsules to assist with appearance and ease of transport and storage. Once sugar-coated, a tablet is protected from the damaging effects of air and moisture, is easier to swallow due to an improved flavour, and, once combined with colouring agents, is quickly identifiable. Recent trends have seen traditional sucrose replaced by synthetic polymers, but, as explained in a previous blog, these can never truly replicate the natural humectant properties of sugar.

Such decisions reflect a wider global reluctance among consumers to medicate themselves with products containing natural sugars. For this to have permeated to the pharmaceutical industry is telling, given that sugar’s role within this sector is functional and it is always inert whenever present. Once this trend has passed, we can expect to see sugar regain its place as the go-to-choice as an excipient in the pharmaceutical industry.

Although an inactive ingredient, sugar is crucial to the medicines consumed by millions across the world

What is pharma grade invert sugar syrup?

While pharmaceutical applications that traditionally favoured sucrose are turning to alternatives, the demand for pharma grade invert sugar syrup is higher than ever. Primarily used to counteract the unpleasant taste of the active ingredients in some medicines, pharma grade invert sugar syrup can also add viscosity to a product and act as a diluent, meaning it adds bulk. In addition, the sugar also provides a quick hit of energy, particularly useful in cold and flu medications, and helps to extend the shelf life of the products as well as improve the taste

India has been a key driver behind this recent spike in the demand for pharma grade invert sugar syrup. A growing middle class has led to increased awareness of and demand for medical treatment, forcing drug manufacturers to turn to external sugar vendors to keep up with consumer requirements. As a result, several new bulk industrial sugar manufacturing facilities have sprung up across India, with this still only going part way to fully satisfying the demand.

At Ragus Pure Sugars, our range of full and partial pharma grade invert sugar syrups are the product of decades of experience and expertise. Such precision, care and insistence on quality is crucial when producing any sugar product, with this being heightened when that product is destined for use in the pharmaceutical industry. A full explanation of what goes into producing invert sugar at Ragus Pure sugars can be found here.

How is pharma grade sugar tested and what accreditations must it receive?

Due to the nature of the pharmaceutical industry, all sugar used in it is subject to extremely rigorous testing. The European Council’s European Pharmacopoeia (Ph. Eur. or EP) is the legal and scientific benchmark against which all pharmaceutical products produced and sold in 38 European, and over 100 worldwide, countries are measured. This ensures standards are kept extremely high and that only products of the highest quality are produced.

Running in parallel with the EP is the British Pharmacopoeia (BP). Since 1864, this has provided quality standards for the pharmaceutical and medicinal products produced and consumed in the UK and over 100, primarily former Commonwealth, countries. All sugars designated for use in this sector are given a British Pharmacopoeia Chemical Reference Substance (BPCRS) – a document outlining the exact chemical structure they must have in order to be deemed fit for use. An example of the BPCRS for sucrose can be found here.

Ensuring strict compliance with the standards set out by both the EP and BP underpins the pharma grade sugars produced at Ragus Pure Sugars. In doing so, we can guarantee that the products we deliver to clients in the pharmaceutical sector are consistently of the highest quality and specifically formulated for their application. Overall, this results in reliable sugars that lead to a repeatable end-product, something that is crucial when manufacturing in bulk.

Contact us now to ensure your pharmaceutical grade sugar benefits from our dedicated approach to quality, consistency and on-time delivery.