Controlled release

Controlled release is a term referring to the presentation or delivery of compounds in response to stimuli or time. This term is most widely used within the pharmaceuticals industry, but is also used in other areas including agriculture, cosmetics and personal care, and food science.

Time release technology (also known as sustained-release [SR], extended-release [ER, XR, XL], controlled-release [CR], and other synonyms) is a mechanism used in pill tablets or capsules to dissolve a drug over time in order to be released slower and steadier into the bloodstream while having the advantage of being taken at less frequent intervals than immediate-release (IR) formulations of the same drug. For example, extended-release morphine allows for people with chronic pain to only need one or two tablets per day.

Most commonly it refers to time dependent release in oral dose formulations. Timed release has several distinct variants such as sustained release where prolonged release is intended, pulse release, delayed release (e.g. to target different regions of the GI tract) etc. A distinction of controlled release is that not only prolongs action but it attempts to maintain drug levels within the therapeutic window to avoid potentially hazardous peaks in drug concentration following ingestion or injection and to maximize therapeutic efficiency.

In addition to pills, capsules and injectable drug carriers (that often have an additional release function), forms of controlled release medicines include gels, implants and devices (e.g. the Vaginal ring and contraceptive implant) and transdermal patches.

Examples of cosmetics, personal care and food science applications often centre on odour or flavour release.

The release technology scientific and industrial community is represented by the Controlled Release Society (CRS). The CRS is the worldwide society for delivery science and technologies. CRS serves more than 1,600 members from more than 50 countries. Two-thirds of CRS membership is represented by industry and one-third represents academia and government. CRS is affiliated with the Journal of Controlled Release and Drug Delivery and Translational Research scientific journals.


The earliest SR drugs is associated with a patent in 1938 by Israel Lipowski, who coated pellets which led to coating particles.[1] The science of controlled release developed further with more oral sustained-release products in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the development of controlled release of marine anti-foulants in the 1950s and controlled release fertilizer in the 1970s where sustained and controlled delivery of nutrients following a single application to the soil. Delivery is usually effected by dissolution, degradation or disintegration of an excipient in which the active compound is formulated. Enteric coating and other encapsulation technologies can further modify release profiles.

List of abbreviations

There is no industry standard for these abbreviations, and confusion and misreading have sometimes caused prescribing errors.[2] Clear handwriting is necessary. For some drugs with multiple formulations, putting the meaning in parentheses is advisable.

Abbreviation Meaning Notes
CD controlled delivery
CR controlled release
DR delayed release
ER extended release
IR immediate release
LA long-acting
LAR long-acting release
MR modified release
SA sustained action Ambiguous, can sometimes mean short-acting
SR sustained release
TR timed release
XL extended release
XR extended release
XT extended release

A few other abbreviations are similar to these (in that they may serve as suffixes) but refer to dose rather than release rate. They include ES and XS (extra strength).


Today, most time-release drugs are formulated so that the active ingredient is embedded in a matrix of insoluble substance(s) (various: some acrylics, even chitin; these substances are often patented) such that the dissolving drug must find its way out through the holes in the matrix.

In some SR formulations, the drug dissolves into the matrix, and the matrix physically swells to form a gel, allowing the drug to exit through the gel's outer surface.

Micro-encapsulation is also regarded as a more complete technology to produce complex dissolution profiles. Through coating an active pharmaceutical ingredient around an inert core, and layering it with insoluble substances to form a microsphere one can obtain more consistent and replicable dissolution rates in a convenient format that can be mixed and matched with other instant release pharmaceutical ingredients in to any two piece gelatin capsule.

There are certain considerations for the formation of sustained-release formulation:

The half-life of the drug refers to the drug's elimination from the bloodstream which can be caused by metabolism, urine, and other forms of excretion. If the active compound has a long half-life (over 6 hours), it is sustained on its own.If the active compound has a short half-life, it would require a large amount to maintain a prolonged effective dose. In this case, a broad therapeutic window is necessary to avoid toxicity; otherwise, the risk is unwarranted and another mode of administration would be recommended. [3] Appropriate half-lifes used to apply sustained methods are typically 3-4 hours and a drug greater than 0.5 grams is too big.[4][5]

The therapeutic index also factors whether a drug can be used as a time release drug. A drug with a thin therapeutic range, or small therapeutic index, will be determined unfit for a sustained release mechanism in partial fear of dose dumping which can prove fatal at the conditions mentioned.[6] For a drug that is made to be released over time, the general goals is to stay within the therapeutic range as long as needed.[3]

There are many different methods used to obtain a sustained release.

Diffusion Systems

Diffusion systems rate release is dependent on the rate at which the drug dissolves through a barrier which is usually a type of polymer. Diffusion systems can be broken into two subcategories, reservoir devices and matrix devices.[3]

Dissolution Systems

Dissolution systems must have the system dissolved slowly in order for the drug to have sustained release properties which can be achieved by using appropriate salts and/or derivatives as well as coating the drug with a dissolving material.[3] It is used for drug compounds with high solubility in water.[6] When the drug is covered with some slow dissolving coat, it will eventually release the drug. Instead of diffusion, the drug release depends on the solubility and thickness of the coating. Because of this mechanism, the dissolution will be the rate limiting factor here for drug release.[3] Dissolution systems can be broken down to subcategories called reservoir devices and matrix devices.[6]

Osmotic Systems

A system where the membrane does not allow the drug diffuse outside the membrane but the body fluid on the exterior of the membrane can diffuse into the membrane, allowing the drug to release through channels within the membrane.[3] Some drugs are enclosed in polymer-based tablets with a laser-drilled hole on one side and a porous membrane on the other side. Stomach acids push through the porous membrane, thereby pushing the drug out through the laser-drilled hole. In time, the entire drug dose releases into the system while the polymer container remains intact, to be excreted later.[9] This method is used for hydrophilic drug and allows zero-order release.[6] This method can be in two forms: the core of the membrane contains the drug as a solid or in a solution. The osmotic system (solid drug core) will have electrolytes which provide high osmotic pressure and is dissolved by incoming fluids.[3]

Ion-exchange Resin

In the ion-exchange method, the resins are cross-linked water-insoluble polymers that contain ionisable functional groups that form a repeating pattern of polymers, creating a polymer chain.[3][6] The drug is attached to the resin and is released when an appropriate interaction of ions and ion exchange groups occur. The area and length of the drug release and number of cross-link polymers dictate the rate at which the drug is released, determining the SR effect.[6]

Floating Systems

A floating system is a system where it floats on gastric fluids due to low-density. The density of the gastric fluids is about 1 mg/mL; thus, the drug/tablet administered must have a smaller density. The buoyancy will allow the system to float to the top of the stomach and release at a slower rate without worry of excreting it. This system requires there are enough gastric fluids present as well as food.[3] Many types of forms of drugs use this method such as powders, capsules, and tablets.[9]

Bio-Adhesive Systems

Bio-adhesive systems generally are meant to stick to mucus and can be favorable for mouth based interactions due to high mucus in the general area but not as simple for other areas. Magnetic materials can be added to the drug so another magnet can hold it from outside the body to assist in holding the system in place. However, there low patient compliance with this system.[3]

Matrix Systems

The matrix system is the mixture of materials with the drug, which will cause the drug to slow down. However, this system has several subcategories: hydrophobic matrices, lipid matrices, hydrophilic matrices, biodegradable matrices, and mineral matrices.[3]

Stimuli inducing release

Examples of stimuli that may be used to bring about release include pH, enzymes, light, magnetic fields, temperature, ultrasonics, osmosis and more recently electronic control of MEMS[11] and NEMS.[12]

Pill splitting

Empty half-shell of a split bupropion XL 150mg manufactured by Anchen Pharmaceuticals that was soaked in water overnight and then shaken.

Some time release formulations do not work properly if split, such as controlled-release tablet coatings, while other formulations such as micro-encapsulation still work if the microcapsules inside are swallowed whole.[13][14]

Among the health information technology (HIT) that pharmacists use are medication safety tools to help manage this problem. For example, the ISMP "do not crush" list[15] can be entered into the system so that warning stickers can be printed at the point of dispensing, to be stuck on the pill bottle.

Pharmaceutical companies that do not supply a range of half-dose and quarter-dose versions of time-release tablets can make it difficult for patients to be slowly tapered off their drugs.

See also

External links


  1. 1 2 3 Navin Dixit, Sheo Dutt Maurya, and Bhanu Sagar. Sustained Release Drug Delivery System. Indian Journal of Research in Pharmacy and Biotechnology. 2013. Accessed: May 30, 2016.
  2. Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority (December 2004), "Drug name suffix confusion is a common source of errors", PA PSRS Patient Saf Advis, 1 (4): 17–18, archived from the original on 2013-07-24.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 Lilesh Khalane, Atulal Kunte, and Arunadevi Blrajdar. Sustained Release Drug Delivery System: A Concise Review. Pharmatutor: pharmacy infopedia. 2016. Accessed: May 30, 2016.
  4. Sampath kumar, Debjit Bhowmik, Shweta Srivastava, Shravan Paswan, and A. Dutta. Sustained. Release Drug Delivery System Potential. The Pharma Innovation. 2012. Accessed: May 30, 2016.
  5. Kapil Patil, Prashant Patil , Javesh Patil , and Sunil Pawar. A Basic Approach on Sustained Release Drug Delivery System. American Journal of PharmTech Research. 2011. Accessed: May 30, 2016.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Ratnaparkhi P. and Gupta P.. Sustained Release Oral Drug Delivery System – An Overveiw. International Journal of Pharma Research & Review. 2013. Accessed: May 30, 2016.
  7. 1 2 Perrie, Y., & Rades, T. Pharmaceutics: Drug delivery and targeting. London: Pharmaceutical Press. Accessed: May 30, 2016.
  8. Tarun Parashar, Soniya, Vishal Singh, Gaurav Singh, Satyanand Tyagi, Chirag Patel, and Anil Gupta. International Journal of Research and Development in Pharmacy and Life Sciences. Novel Oral Sustained Release Technology: A Concise Review. 2013. Accessed: May 30, 2016.
  9. 1 2 Dusane Ratilal, Gaikwad D., Banker H., and Pawar P. A Review On: Sustained Release Technology. International Journal of Research in Ayurveda and Pharmacy. 2011. Accessed: May 30, 2016.
  10. Jaimini Manish and Kothari Abhay. Sustained Release Matrix Type Drug Delivery System: A Review. Journal of Drug Delivery & Therapeutics. 2012. Accessed: May 30, 2016.
  11. Maloney JM, Uhland S, Polito B, Sheppard NF Jr, Pelta C, Santini JT Jr (2005). "Electrothermally activated microchips for implantable drug delivery and biosensing" (PDF). J Controlled Release. 109 (1-3): 244–255. doi:10.1016/j.jconrel.2005.09.035. PMID 16278032.
  12. You JO, Almeda D, Ye GJ, Auguste DT (2010). "Bioresponsive matrices in drug delivery". J Biol Eng. 4: 15. doi:10.1186/1754-1611-4-15. PMC 3002303Freely accessible. PMID 21114841.
  14. Vranić, E; Uzunović, A (August 2009). "Influence of splitting on dissolution properties of metoprolol tablets.". Bosnian journal of basic medical sciences / Udruzenje basicnih mediciniskih znanosti = Association of Basic Medical Sciences. 9 (3): 245–9. PMID 19754482.
  15. Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP), ISMP "do not crush" list: Oral dosage forms that should not be crushed (PDF)
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