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Tablet vs Capsule: What Costs More to Produce?

April 22, 2024

When it comes to choosing between tablets vs. capsules, a big driver in the decision is cost. That’s to be expected in just about any business.

But when it comes to tablets and capsules, the manufacturing process and economies of scale create some complexities when it comes to determining how much you are going to pay depending on what you choose.

This guide will help you understand what goes into the costs of these products, which is less expensive up front, and which may save you more money down the line – as well as how to switch from one to the other if you feel like you want to change course.

Capsules Often Save Money Up Front

Budget-constrained pharmaceutical companies often go with capsules at first because of their cost-saving properties – at least at the early stages of manufacturing.

Here are a few reasons why capsules have the edge on tablets in this area, as laid out in the paper "Evaluating Development and Production Costs: Tablets versus Capsules" by Graham Cole for Capsugel, a capsule manufacturer:

  • Development and Production Costs: Tablets generally require more complex manufacturing processes including wet granulation and film coating, which can be costlier compared to the simpler processes required for capsules.
  • Cost of Raw Materials: Capsules might have higher raw material costs primarily due to the cost of the capsule shells. However, the overall cost advantages may still favor capsules due to simpler manufacturing processes.
  • Manufacturing Process and Equipment: Capsules can often be produced with fewer manufacturing steps and lower capital investment in equipment compared to tablets, which may require complex and expensive machinery for processes like granulation and film coating.
  • Facility and Utility Costs: The facility size required for capsule production is typically smaller than that needed for tablets, leading to lower costs in building, utilities, and maintenance.
  • Market Entry and Flexibility: Capsules can be developed and brought to market more quickly, particularly in the early stages of new drug development, due to easier formulation adjustments and faster production setup.
  • Regulatory and Validation Costs: Capsules generally have fewer ingredients, which can reduce the time and cost associated with analytical and validation processes required by regulatory bodies.

Tablets May Actually Save Pharmaceutical Companies More in the Long Run

Capsules may sound like a great choice initially for a drug company, particularly one looking to save money. But savings in up-front costs may lead to more expenses in the long run. Here are a few reasons why tablets may be the better choice to save money:

  1. Volume of Production: Tablets can be more cost-effective at higher volumes. The mass production techniques and equipment for tablets (e.g., high-speed presses) can handle larger batches efficiently, thus reducing the per-unit cost significantly compared to capsules.
  1. Complexity of Formulation: For simpler formulations where extensive manipulation of the drug release profile isn't needed, tablets can be cheaper because they require fewer formulation adjustments and stabilizers compared to capsules, which might need special treatments for the encapsulating material.
  1. Material Costs: Tablets often use inexpensive excipients and require less complex machinery for basic formulations. The casing for capsules, typically gelatin or a vegetarian substitute, can be more expensive than the binders and fillers used in tablets.
  1. Standardization: Tablet manufacturing processes are highly standardized, reducing the likelihood of errors and waste. This can lead to economies of scale that keep costs low when producing large quantities.

Why Manufacturers Choose Tablets Over Capsules Beyond Cost

It’s not just per-unit cost that manufacturers are thinking about. There are other vital factors they must consider before choosing between a capsule and a tablet:

  1. Stability and Shelf Life: Tablets can offer better stability and longer shelf life compared to capsules, which can be crucial for certain active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) sensitive to environmental factors like humidity and temperature.
  1. Dosage Precision: Tablets can be scored, allowing patients to easily split them for precise dosing. This feature is beneficial for medications requiring precise dosage adjustments.
  1. Patient Compliance: While capsules are often preferred for ease of swallowing, tablets can be formulated to include flavorings and coatings that enhance palatability and patient compliance.
  1. Marketing and Differentiation: Tablets can be manufactured in various shapes, colors, and sizes, which can help in branding and product differentiation in the competitive pharmaceutical market.

Step-by-Step Guide to Transitioning from Capsules to Tablets

If you're considering making the switch from capsules to tablets, it’s not as daunting as you think. Here’s a simplified guide on what steps to take:

  1. Assessment and Planning:
  • Evaluate the current capsule formulation and identify critical quality attributes.
  • Determine the feasibility of maintaining these attributes in a tablet form.
  1. Excipient Selection:
  • Choose suitable multifunctional excipients that can replicate the performance of your capsule in tablet form.
  • Work with suppliers like Colorcon to obtain excipients that meet your specific needs.
  1. Formulation Development:
  • Develop initial tablet formulations using the selected multifunctional excipients.
  • Perform small-scale trials to test the formulation's performance in terms of stability, dissolution, and patient acceptability.
  1. Process Optimization:
  • Optimize the tablet manufacturing process, including compression and coating.
  • Ensure the process is scalable and aligns with your production capabilities.
  1. Validation and Compliance:
  • Conduct validation runs to confirm that the tablet meets all regulatory requirements.
  • Document all processes for compliance with industry standards.
  1. Launch Preparation and Scale-Up:
  • Prepare for full-scale production by setting up the necessary equipment and training staff.
  • Begin production and closely monitor the initial batches for quality control.

Closing Thoughts

The transition's overall cost will largely depend on the specific requirements of your product and existing capabilities. However, by leveraging multifunctional excipients, many of the typical costs associated with formulation development and scale-up can be significantly reduced. Moreover, the long-term savings from improved manufacturing efficiency and market acceptance can outweigh the initial investment.

Switching from a capsule to a tablet doesn't have to be a cumbersome or costly endeavor. Today’s pharmaceutical manufacturers have more tools at their disposal to achieve a smoother transition, ensuring product quality and patient satisfaction while also benefiting from economies of scale.

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