Butterflies are the tablets and capsules of the insect world. A fan-favorite, their exquisite colors make them a lot more palatable than creatures with more intimidating exteriors and higher ‘ick’ factors.
As opposed to insects of the stinging variety (I’m looking at you, wasps) — the likes of which are about as welcomed as a shot in the arm — people warmly invite butterflies into their gardens.
And much like everyone’s favorite drug dosage form, butterflies have a long history. Scientists recently found fossils that suggest moths and butterflies have been on the planet for at least 200 million years — which means they actually predate the flowering plants they have become so good at pollinating.
As you will read in this month’s cover story, oral solid dosage formulations were first documented around 1500 B.C., crafted by ancient Egyptians from a combination of dough, honey or grease blended with medicinal ingredients. Given a boost by the invention of the compressed tablet in the mid-19th century, OSDs have since become the backbone of the pharma industry, offering drugmakers a dosage form that is cost-effective to manufacture, shelf stable and easy to administer. Most importantly, OSD drugs are well-understood and well-liked by patients.
But today’s world faces bold challenges in health care, and if yesterday’s OSDs want to stay relevant, they need to become part of today’s solutions. And the pharma industry is turning to novel technologies to teach its old dosage forms some new tricks.
It is now possible to create customized drugs, even incorporating multiple drugs into a single capsule, using 3D printing technology. Ingestible sensors added to tablets communicate with wearable patches, transmitting data to smartphone apps. Drugmakers are even working towards orally bioavailable biologics by outfitting capsules with microneedles to painlessly inject drugs like insulin directly into the stomach lining.
As for the butterflies, our winged friends have done a remarkable job of surviving on their own, but modern issues like habitat loss, drought, pesticide use and climate change are now threatening their very existence. And like drugs, butterflies are getting some help from technology.
Lightweight electronic tags placed on their wings are helping researchers track and understand migration habits. Reporting apps allow people to submit butterfly images and data that can be analyzed by scientists. Many states have launched pollinator-friendly solar projects, which, as the name implies, combine solar energy farms with pollinator habitats.
Come springtime, butterflies fluttering between flowers is as familiar to us as swallowing the allergy tablets we need to brave the pollen. So perhaps it’s fitting that ongoing metamorphosis is the name of the game for OSD products too.
What may have started as a crudely rolled ball of medicinal herbs coated in grease has transformed over time, emerging anew to deliver a brightly colored future for patients.