Why it’s important to improve the taste of drugs

Although the majority of patients undertaking a course of prescribed medicines will see it out until the end, there are still a number of people who fail to complete their medications. This is usually down to a number of reasons: the patient could be feeling better before reaching the end of the course, the medicines may not agree with them, or they could find the taste too unpleasant – hence a need to improve the taste of drugs.

In an attempt to help combat the latter, Pharma companies have been carrying out market research on this. There is a particular need to improve the taste of medications given to children and the elderly, which will help lead to greater patient compliance.

Children will especially shy away from foul tasting, bitter medicines and could refuse to take them altogether, especially younger ones who are yet to understand the importance of taking their meds. For the elderly, they may have to change to a liquid form of their drug if powdered tablets become too difficult to swallow, and as liquids have the capabilities to take on more flavour, the taste of these should not be overlooked.

The taste of drugs – in particular antibiotics – should also be taken seriously, as negligence in finishing a course of these could lead to antibiotic resistance or see the return of the infection. However, there’s always the risk of making medicines taste too nice, which could lead to addiction or children helping themselves to medicines when they shouldn’t be.

SRL Research, a Cork-based sensory and consumer research company, has gone as far as setting up a separate division – SRL Pharma – to help Pharma companies in their research into medicine flavours.

Currently, 75% of all new products – pharmaceutical or otherwise – go out of production within two years due to their taste, according to Margaret Shine, SRL Pharma chief executive and the founder of SRL Research. She believes that by delving into sensory sciences her company could help to significantly decrease this statistic.

According to SRL Pharma, they have “partnered with several pharmaceutical companies, their contract research organisations and academic institutions in the areas of taste masking and new flavour research/optimisation in order to help to improve drug palatability and ultimately leading to enhanced patient acceptability and compliance”.

The company uses panels of human testers to assess the taste of medicines used, but emphasise strongly that they do not come up with a means of improving the taste of drugs, more just to assess the consumer response. “It is not an attempt to get a nice flavour into the product. It is about maintaining a level of integrity for the product but also making it more acceptable to the consumer,” Shine told the Irish Times.