Pharmaceutical formulation, in pharmaceutics, is the process in which different chemical substances, including the active drug, are combined to produce a final medicinal product. The word formulation is often used in a way that includes dosage form. Formulation studies involve developing a preparation of the drug which is both stable and acceptable to the patient. For orally administered drugs, this usually involves incorporating the drug into a tablet or a capsule.
It is important to make the distinction that a tablet contains a variety of other potentially inert substances apart from the drug itself, and studies have to be carried out to ensure that the encapsulated drug is compatible with these other substances in a way that does not cause harm, whether direct or indirect. Preformulation involves the characterization of a drug's physical, chemical, and mechanical properties in order to choose what other ingredients (excipients) should be used in the preparation. In dealing with protein pre-formulation, the important aspect is to understand the solution behavior of a given protein under a variety of stress conditions such as freeze/thaw, temperature, shear stress among others to identify mechanisms of degradation and therefore its mitigation.
Formulation studies then consider such factors as particle size, polymorphism, pH, and solubility, as all of these can influence bioavailability and hence the activity of a drug. The drug must be combined with inactive ingredients by a method which ensures that the quantity of drug present is consistent in each dosage unit e.g. each tablet. The dosage should have a uniform appearance, with an acceptable taste, tablet hardness, or capsule disintegration. It is unlikely that formulation studies will be complete by the time clinical trials commence. This means that simple preparations are developed initially for use in phase I clinical trials. These typically consist of hand-filled capsules containing a small amount of the drug and diluents. Proof of the long-term stability of these formulations is not required, as they will be used (tested) in a matter of days. Consideration has to be given to what is known as "drug loading" - the ratio of the active drug to the total contents of the dose. A low drug load may cause homogeneity problems. A high drug load may pose flow problems or require large capsules if the compound has a low bulk density.
By the time phase III clinical trials are reached, the formulation of the drug should have been developed to be close to the preparation that will ultimately be used in the market. Knowledge of stability is essential by this stage, and conditions must have been developed to ensure that the drug is stable in the preparation. If the drug proves unstable, it will invalidate the results from clinical trials since it would be impossible to know what the administered dose actually was. Stability studies are carried out to test whether temperature, humidity, oxidation, or photolysis (ultraviolet light or visible light) have any effect, and the preparation is analyzed to see if any degradation products have been formed.