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Galenics: This is how the production of medicines works

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 256 views

The task of galenics is to turn an active ingredient into a finished drug. Because acetylsalicylic acid, cortisone, urea and many other drugs must first be processed into tablets, ointments, infusion solutions or another form of administration before they can be used. Galenics is a part of pharmacy. The name goes back to the Greek doctor and natural scientist Galen of Pergamon (also Galenius or Galen).

In addition to the pure production of medicines, other tasks also fall under the responsibility of the galenicians: These scientists also deal with the effectiveness, toxicity, tolerability and safety of a preparation. On the one hand, this is done via drug tests before a drug is approved in study phases I, II and III. On the other hand, the use of the drug after its approval is also kept in mind with regard to effects and side effects . You can find out more about this testing and monitoring of a drug in the article Drug approval .

Galenics – definition: Galenics is the science of the preparation and shaping of drugs from active ingredients and excipients, including their technological testing.

Search for the right “packaging”

The galenic takes care of bringing the active ingredient with suitable excipients (see below) into the right “packaging” ( dosage form ). These can be, for example, tablets, dragees, capsules, powders, solutions or active ingredient patches.

The galenic packaging – i.e. dosage form – then determines the form in which the active ingredient is administered (applied). Common forms of administration of drugs are, for example:

  • oral (peroral): through the mouth (by swallowing, e.g. tablet, medicine juice)
  • sublingual: under the tongue (e.g. tablet that then dissolves under the tongue)
  • rectally: in the rectum (e.g. suppositories)
  • nasal: through the nose (e.g. nasal spray)
  • cutaneous: on the skin (e.g. ointment, cream)
  • subcutaneous: under the skin (syringe)
  • transdermal: through the skin into the blood (e.g. active ingredient plaster)
  • intramuscular: into a muscle (injection)
  • intravenous: into a vein (syringe or infusion )
  • pulmonary: into the lower respiratory tract (e.g. inhalation)

In the case of administration via the mouth (eg orally, sublingually) or rectum (rectally), the active ingredient reaches the gastrointestinal tract and is absorbed there. That is why we are talking about enteral forms of administration here (enteral = relating to the intestines or intestines).

The counterpart are parenteral forms of administration : Here the active substance bypasses the gastrointestinal tract and enters the body, ie it is administered intravenously, subcutaneously or pulmonarily, for example.

onset of action and tolerability

Which form of administration and application is most suitable for a medicinal product depends, among other things, on where and how quickly the active substance is to be released . Some examples:

  • With a sublingual tablet , the active ingredient is already absorbed into the blood via the oral mucosa. In this way, you can administer a strong painkiller that should take effect quickly.
  • Injections can also be used to achieve a faster onset of action, for example for painkillers. As with a sublingual tablet, the active ingredient reaches the bloodstream much more quickly than if it had to take a detour via the gastrointestinal tract (e.g. normal painkillers to swallow).
  • Gastric juice-resistant tablets have a coating that prevents the preparation from passing through the stomach undamaged and only releases the active ingredient in the intestine. This may be necessary if the acidic gastric juice would attack the active ingredient and render it ineffective.
  • Sustained- release preparations are designed in such a way that they release the active ingredient more slowly (e.g. sustained-release painkillers). This enables a constant level of active ingredient in the blood over a longer period of time. Sustained-release preparations that are not used orally, subcutaneously or intramuscularly (e.g. nicotine patches, three- month injections ) are also called depot preparations.
  • An active substance can be brought straight to its destination by means of inhalation , nasal spray or eye drops . An asthma medication, for example, can be inhaled. A nasal spray can help against a cold . Eye drops can be used to relieve dry eyes or – with the addition of antibiotics – bacterial eye infections.

The form of administration and application can also have an impact on possible risks and side effects . For example, the above-mentioned gastric juice-resistant coating on some tablets may even be due solely to better tolerability: some active ingredients irritate the gastric mucosa and can thus trigger nausea and vomiting . Therefore, they should only be released in the intestine.


In addition to one or more active ingredients, most medicines also contain excipients such as starch or gelatine. These have no pharmaceutical effect themselves, but rather serve as fillers, colorings or flavorings, preservatives, glidants or lubricants or as stabilizers and carriers. The various excipients ensure the right storage life, shelf life, a better smell or taste and also the right appearance of the drug.

Excipients do not have to be fully specified on the packaging. This can be problematic for people with a corresponding allergy (e.g. to a certain dye).

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