Centre is switching to cellulose-based vegetarian capsules, replacing animal-based gelatin capsules

New Delhi, June5:The Centre is close to deciding on switching to cellulose-based vegetarian capsules, replacing the widely used, animal-based gelatin capsules.

The Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has constituted an expert committee to address all the technical issues pertaining to replacing of gelatin with cellulose for encapsulating drugs.

The move came after the ministry received a proposal from a drug and pharmaceutical advisory panel to replace gelatin capsules with cellulose ones, which are of plant origin and said to be safe for use as compared to gelatin pills.

The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has already come up with standards for vegetarian capsules. According to a BIS document, vegetable capsules might soon replace the usage of gelatin capsules. Modified naturally-occurring polymer cellulose is considered safe for normal consumption in humans. Hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose (HPMC), most commonly known as hypromellose, is mainly used for manufacturing such capsule shells.

Most pharmaceutical capsules available in the market are made of gelatin; however, several HPMC capsules for powdered herbs and dietary supplements have come up in recent years. BIS also said religious, cultural, and personal issues may affect patients’ preference for medicines presented in capsule form.

“The Committee has asked for views of stakeholders including manufacturers and marketers of HPMC capsules. Views of NGOs that are working in this field or are involved in this subject may also be obtained so that a well-reviewed stance can be taken into consideration,” a senior health ministry official said.

Government officials have said that cellulose capsules would be costlier than their gelatin counterparts. The delivery mechanisms of specific medicines for diseases like asthma are only in the form of capsules. Apart from Allopathic medicine companies, Ayurveda drug companies have also started largely selling medicines in the capsule forms.

As gelatin contains collagen, which makes up our cartilage and bones, doctors claim that gelatin capsules may have side effects such as upset stomach, burping, bloating, and allergic reactions. “Gelatin used in capsules mainly comes by processing bones of large animals. Major gelatin consumers are capsule manufacturers followed by the cosmetic industry. Gelatin also carries a risk of being contaminated with some animal diseases. However, no study has been done on the same,” said Dr Avinash Srivastava, Veterinary Expert, Delhi.