Mechanisms of Drug Solubilization by Polar Lipids in Biorelevant Media

Despite the widespread use of lipid excipients in both academic research and oral formulation development, rational selection guidelines are still missing. In the current study, we aimed to establish a link between the molecular structure of commonly used polar lipids and drug solubilization in biorelevant media. We studied the effect of 26 polar lipids of the fatty acid, phospholipid or monoglyceride type on the solubilization of fenofibrate in a two-stage in vitro GI tract model. The main trends were checked also with progesterone and danazol.
Based on their fenofibrate solubilization efficiency, the polar lipids can be grouped in 3 main classes. Class 1 substances (n = 5) provide biggest enhancement of drug solubilization (>10-fold) and are composed only by unsaturated compounds. Class 2 materials (n = 10) have an intermediate effect (3-10 fold increase) and are composed primarily (80 %) of saturated compounds. Class 3 materials (n = 11) have very low or no effect on drug solubilization and are entirely composed of saturated compounds.
The observed behaviour of the polar lipids was rationalized by using two classical physicochemical parameters: the acyl chain phase transition temperature (Tm) and the critical micellar concentration (CMC). Hence, the superior performance of class 1 polar lipids was explained by the double bonds in their acyl chains, which: (1) significantly decrease Tm, allowing these C18 lipids to form colloidal aggregates and (2) prevent tight packing of the molecules in the aggregates, resulting in bigger volume available for drug solubilization. Long-chain (C18) saturated polar lipids had no significant effect on drug solubilization because their Tm was much higher than the temperature of the experiment (T = 37 C) and, therefore, their association in colloidal aggregates was limited. On the other end of the spectrum, the short chain octanoic acid manifested a high CMC (50 mM), which had to be exceeded in order to enhance drug solubilization. When these two parameters were satisfied (C > CMC, Tm < Texp), the increase of the polar lipid chain length increased the drug solubilization capacity (similarly to classical surfactants), due to the decreased CMC and bigger volume available for solubilization.
The hydrophilic head group also has a dramatic impact on the drug solubilization enhancement, with polar lipids performance decreasing in the order: choline phospholipids > monoglycerides > fatty acids.
As both the acyl chain length and the head group type are structural features of the polar lipids, and not of the solubilized drugs, the impact of Tm and CMC on solubilization by polar lipids should hold true for a wide variety of hydrophobic molecules. The obtained mechanistic insights can guide rational drug formulation development and thus support modern drug discovery pipelines.