Are Excipients Inert? Phenytoin Pharmaceutical Investigations with New Incompatibility Insights


  • Daniela Amaral Silva University of Alberta
  • Raimar Löbenberg University of Alberta
  • Neal Davies University of Alberta



PURPOSE: The U.S. Pharmacopeia defines excipients as substances other than the active pharmaceutic ingredient (API) that are added in a drug delivery system in order to aid in the manufacturing process and enhance stability, bioavailability, safety, effectiveness and delivery of the drug. The 1968 phenytoin intoxication outbreak in Brisbane, Australia, is a classic example of an API–excipient interaction. When administered with CaSO4 the absorption of phenytoin was reduced due to an interaction between the API and the excipient. When CaSO4 was replaced by lactose, the amount of drug absorbed was much higher, resulting in the observed intoxication. It was hypothesized that phenytoin was converted to a calcium salt prior to ingestion. The purpose of this study was to mechanistically investigate the interactions between excipients and phenytoin to confirm the hypothesis of the previous reports. METHODS: Titration experiments with phenytoin and calcium salt were performed. Isothermal micro calorimetry was used to determine incompatibilities between excipients, phenytoin and milk. NMR was used to characterize the compounds. Dissolution tests containing CaSO4, lactose or sorbitol as excipients were also performed. Both Canadian and United States of America commercially available capsules were tested with milk and water. RESULTS: The calorimeter results indicate that phenytoin sodium interacts with CaSO4 in aqueous media and the dissolution profile of CaSO4 containing capsules showed a reduced dissolution rate. In addition, phenytoin sodium also interacts with lactose through a Maillard reaction that can occur at body temperature. Likewise, commercial Phenytoin sodium products interacted with milk and the products containing lactose showed browning in water. CONCLUSION: In Canada and the USA, the reference product contains lactose as an excipient in the formulation, whereas the Canadian generic formulations do not contain lactose. Any clinical relevance of these difference has not been determined. A new incompatibility between phenytoin and lactose has been discovered and an incompatibility with calcium was confirmed, which may have implications in regard to excipients and food effects.


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How to Cite

Amaral Silva, D., Löbenberg, R., & Davies, N. (2018). Are Excipients Inert? Phenytoin Pharmaceutical Investigations with New Incompatibility Insights. Journal of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, 21(1s), 19s–31s.



Pharmaceutical Sciences; Original Research Articles