Say good-bye to hard-to-swallow pills

In the future, we’ll be consuming fast-dissolving, flavoured film strips the size of postage stamps

Bye-bye, jagged little pill

Photograph by Jessica Darmanin

Have trouble swallowing those not-so-little pills that so often get stuck in your throat? Soon, a range of prescription medications may also be available in thin, fast-dissolving films the size of a postage stamp, likely mint or watermelon flavoured—just like the breath-freshener films available at corner stores. Using flavoured films instead of pills is not a new thing—over-the-counter cold and heartburn medications have been using films for several years—but it’s still quite limited for prescription drugs. Now, a group of companies, including IntelGenx, a Quebec firm specializing in drug delivery systems, is working to adapt the use of oral-strip technology to prescription medication. They expect their migraine film to hit the market in two years, says Horst Zerbe, IntelGenx president and CEO.

Besides the migraine oral strip, the Montreal-based company is also working on fast-dissolving films for insomnia, motion sickness, even erectile dysfunction. Zerbe says the oral strips, which melt in the mouth in a matter of seconds, release the active ingredients of a drug much faster than pills or tablets—a better choice for cancer patients in acute pain, or the sleep-deprived, who, late at night, need fast-acting tonics. They’re also more practical for travellers on buses and planes who don’t have ready access to a glass of water, and those, like the elderly, who have more difficulty swallowing pills and tablets. The company is also working on a time-release film that adheres to the gums and controls the release of the appropriate amount of medication over several hours, which may eliminate the need for multiple pills.

While pills often leave a bitter flavour when being washed down with water, oral strips can be engineered to have different flavours. Perhaps their best use, however, lies in tricking patients who are notorious for avoiding swallowing medication: children and pets. “They’re very creative at hiding it from you and then spitting it out,” says Zerbe. Tests on medication films for dogs “have worked very well,” he says, especially the flavoured films. No doubt Fido would prefer having a ham-flavoured film melt in his mouth than be force-fed yet another bitter pill.

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