Non-invasive capsule analysis

Scientists at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory have developed a laser-based method to characterise the bulk chemical content of pharmaceutical capsules without opening them. The technique holds potential for a range of process control applications in the pharmaceutical industry.

The researchers at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Lasers for Science Facility in Oxfordshire worked in collaboration with pharmaceutical company Pfizer. The team succeeded in quantifying the presence of the active pharmaceutical ingredient in production line capsules to a relative error of one per cent. Other established non-invasive methods were unable to reach the same level of accuracy with the same sample.

The development stems from research into a new Raman spectroscopy method, Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy, which is under development at STFC for a wide range of applications. These include the detection of explosives in non-metallic containers, the detection of counterfeit drugs through opaque packaging and the non-invasive diagnosis of bone disease and cancer. The concepts, which are relatively simple to implement, were developed through experiments involving STFC’s large-scale facilities which provided crucial insight into photon transport processes.

The development is being carried out in close collaboration with STFC’s knowledge technology transfer arm, CLIK, and the new techniques are planned for commercialisation through STFC’s spin-out company LiteThru.