Drugs with low water solubility are predisposed to poor and variable oral bioavailability and, therefore, to variability in clinical response, that might be overcome through an appropriate formulation of the drug. Polymorphs (anhydrous and solvate/hydrate forms) may resolve these bioavailability problems, but they can be a challenge to ensure physicochemical stability for the entire shelf life of the drug product. Since clinical failures of polymorph drugs have not been uncommon, and some of them have been entirely unexpected,
the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the International Conference on Harmonization (ICH) has required preliminary and exhaustive screening studies to identify and characterize all the polymorph crystal forms for each drug. In the past, the polymorphism of many drugs was detected fortuitously or through manual time consuming methods; today, drug crystal engineering, in particular, combinatorial chemistry and high-throughput screening, makes it possible to easily and exhaustively identify stable polymorphic and/or hydrate/dehydrate forms of poorly soluble drugs, in order to overcome bioavailability related problems or clinical failures. This review describes the concepts involved, provides examples of drugs characterized by poor solubility for which polymorphism has proven important, outlines the state-of-the-art technologies and discusses the pertinent regulations.
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