Mol. Pharm. 19 (11) 3922-3933 [2022-11-07; online 2022-09-22]
Proteins, and in particular whey proteins, have recently been introduced as a promising excipient class for stabilizing amorphous solid dispersions. However, despite the efficacy of the approach, the molecular mechanisms behind the stabilization of the drug in the amorphous form are not yet understood. To investigate these, we used experimental and computational techniques to study the impact of drug loading on the stability of protein-stabilized amorphous formulations. β-Lactoglobulin, a major component of whey, was chosen as a model protein and indomethacin as a model drug. Samples, prepared by either ball milling or spray drying, formed single-phase amorphous solid dispersions with one glass transition temperature at drug loadings lower than 40-50%; however, a second glass transition temperature appeared at drug loadings higher than 40-50%. Using molecular dynamics simulations, we found that a drug-rich phase occurred at a loading of 40-50% and higher, in agreement with the experimental data. The simulations revealed that the mechanisms of the indomethacin stabilization by β-lactoglobulin were a combination of (a) reduced mobility of the drug molecules in the first drug shell and (b) hydrogen-bond networks. These networks, formed mostly by glutamic and aspartic acids, are situated at the β-lactoglobulin surface, and dependent on the drug loading (>40%), propagated into the second and subsequent drug layers. The simulations indicate that the reduced mobility dominates at low (<40%) drug loadings, whereas hydrogen-bond networks dominate at loadings up to 75%. The computer simulation results agreed with the experimental physical stability data, which showed a significant stabilization effect up to a drug fraction of 70% under dry storage. However, under humid conditions, stabilization was only sufficient for drug loadings up to 50%, confirming the detrimental effect of humidity on the stability of protein-stabilized amorphous formulations.