• History

• Introduction

• Polymer synthesis

– Addition or free radical reaction

– Condensation reaction

• Classification of polymers

• Properties of polymers

• Ideal properties of polymers for pharmaceutical use

• Advantages of polymers

• Applications of polymers in pharmaceutical and biomedical


At the end of this chapter, student will be able to:

• Outline the historical development in polymer synthesis

• Define the terms, ‘polymer’, ‘monomer’, ‘degree of

• Describe polymer synthesis by free radical addition and
condensation reaction

• Classify polymers

• Describe the physical, mechanical and thermal properties
of polymers

• Enlist the ideal requirements of polymers for
pharmaceutical use

• Outline the advantages of polymers

• Discuss the applications of polymers in pharmaceutical and
biomedical field


• The first semisynthetic polymer ever made was guncotton
(cellulose nitrate) by Christian F. Schonbein in 1845

– Highly explosive

– Poor processability

– Poor solubility

• Celluloid (plasticized cellulose nitrate)

• Cellulose acetate (cellulose treated with acetic acid)

• Hydrolyzed cellulose acetate soluble in acetone

• In 1872, Bakelite, a strong and durable synthetic polymer based
on phenol and formaldehyde, was invented

• Other synthetic polymers invented later

– Polyethylene (1933)

– Poly (vinyl chloride) (1933)

– Polystyrene (1933)

– Polyamide (1935)

– Teflon (1938)

– Synthetic rubbers (1942)

Herman Staudinger, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry
in 1953, coined the term “macromolecule” in 1922 and used it in reference to

What is the difference between ‘polymer’ and


Single à

Many àPOLY

Polymers are high molecular weight compounds or molecules
composed of many repeating subunits called monomers, connected by covalent or
chemical bonds

• Polymerization –
Process of formation of macromolecules by linking of monomers together

• Degree of polymerization
(DP) –
Average molecular weight of the polymer divided by the molecular
weight of the monomer


Determined by

• Length

• Molecular weight

• Backbone structure

• Side chain

Can polymers exist in gaseous state?

Modifications in properties of polymers

 Changing molecular weight

 Changing structure of monomer building blocks

 Blending them with with other polymers



– Addition polymerization

– Condensation polymerization

Polymerization/ Free-radical Polymerization

Monomer having a double bond

• The initiator is an unstable molecule that is cleaved into
two radical- carrying species under the action of heat, light, chemical, or
high-energy irradiation

• Each initiating radical has the ability to attack the
double bond of a monomer

• The π bond in a monomer generally requires low energy to
break; therefore, polymerization starts at this site by the addition of a free
radical on the monomer

• The radical is transferred to the monomer and a monomer
radical is produced. This step in polymerization is called initiation.

• The monomer radical is also able to attack another monomer
and then another monomer, and so on and so forth. This step is called
propagation by which a macroradical is formed.

• Macroradicals prepared in this way can undergo another
reaction with another macroradical or with another inert compound (e.g., an
impurity in the reaction) which terminates the macroradical.

Monomers such as acrylic acid, acrylamide, acrylic salts
(such as sodium acrylate), and acrylic esters (methyl acrylate) contain double
bonds and they can be polymerized via addition reactions.

Addition or
free-radical polymerization of styrene

polymerization / step polymerization

• If  a  monomer 
does  not  contain 
a  double  bond 
but  possesses functional groups
such as hydroxyl, carboxyl, or amines, they can interact via condensation

• Example, monomer containing a reactive hydrogen from the
amine residue can react with another monomer containing a reactive hydroxyl
group (a residue of carboxyl group) to generate a new functional group (amide)
and water as a side product

• Nylon is prepared via condensation polymerization of a
diamine and diacid chloride

Examples of
condensation polymerization

of Polymers

Polymers can be classified based on the following

Nature of monomers

1. Homopolymers

2. Copolymers

Arrangement of

1.   Random

2.   Graft

3.   Block

Structure of polymer

1.   Linear

2.   Branched

3.   Crosslinked                                                                                               

Thermal response

1.   Thermoplastic

2.   Thermosetting

3.   Elastomer


1.   Natural

2.   Semisynthetic

3.   Synthetic

and Homopolymers

• If one monomer is involved, the process is called polymerization
and the product is a homopolymer

• Copolymerization refers to a polymerization reaction in
which more than one type of monomer is involved

• Generally, copolymerization includes two types of monomers


Polymer Networks

and Thermoset Polymers


• Polymers with a linear or branched structure

• Can undergo melting

• The process of thermomelting and solidification can be
repeated indefinitely


• Cross-linked polymers

• There is no reversible melting and solidifying

• Once formed, it does not soften upon heating and
decomposes with further application of heat


• Rubbery polymers that can be easily stretched without
application of heat

• On releasing the applied stress, they return to original

• Have low density of crosslinking

and Nonbiodegradable polymers

• Based on the ability of the polymers to undergo
degradation in natural environment and biological systems

• Biodegradable –
slowly get degraded from the site of administration

• Non-biodegradable –
inert in the environment of use






• Melting point

• Glass transition temperature 


• Molecular weight

• Molar volume                               

• Density

• Degree of polymerization        

• Crystallinity of material




   Hard or soft

   Response to
application of repeated load

Properties – Degree of Polymerization and Molecular Weight

• The degree of polymerization (DP)-n in a polymer molecule
is defined as the number of repeating units in the polymer chain − (−CH𝟐
− CH2−)−n

• The molecular weight of a polymer molecule is the product
of the degree of polymerization and the molecular weight of the repeating

Average Molecular

• The polymer molecules are not identical but are a mixture
of many species with different degrees of polymerization, that is, with
different molecular weights. Therefore, in the case of polymers we talk about
the average values of molecular weights

of polymer molecular weight

• The physical properties (such as transition temperature,
viscosity, etc.) and mechanical properties (such as strength, stiffness, and
toughness) depend on the molecular weight of polymer

• The lower the molecular weight, lower the transition
temperature, viscosity, and the mechanical properties

• Increased entanglement of chains with increased molecular
weight, the polymer gets higher viscosity in molten state, which makes the
processing of polymer difficult

Properties – Polydispersity Index (PDI) or Heterogeneity Index

   The dispersity
measures heterogeneity of sizes of molecules or particles in the mixture

• The mixture is called monodisperse if the molecules have
the same size, shape, or mass

• If the molecules in the mixture have an inconsistent size,
shape and mass distribution, the mixture is called polydisperse

 The PDI is equal to or greater than 1

 As the polymer chains approach uniform chain length, the PDI
approaches to unity

Properties – Polymer crystallinity

Semi-crystalline polymer

and amorphous polymers

Crystalline Polymer

• If the structure of polymer is linear, polymer chains can pack
together in regular arrays

Amorphous polymer

• In many cases, the structure of a polymer is so irregular
that crystal formation is thermodynamically infeasible

Properties – Polymer crystallinity

Amorphous   O% ß
Polymer Crystallinity
à >9O% Crystalline

• Lamellar crystalline form – the chains fold and make
lamellar structure arranged in the regular manner

• Amorphous form -the chains are in the irregular manner

• Tie Molecules – The lamellae are embedded in the amorphous
part and can communicate with other lamellae via tie molecules

of polymer crystallinity

Slow cooling + Simple
structural chains


Sufficient time is
available for crystallization to take place


High degree of Crystallinity

Rigid and have high
melting point, but their impact resistance is low

polyethylene, and PET polyester


  Amorphous polymers
are soft and have lower melting points

  Solvent can
penetrate the amorphous part more easily than the crystalline part

polystyrene and poly(methyl methacrylate)

Crystallinity – Spherulites

• If the molten polymer is cooled down, then the crystalline
lamellae grow in radial direction from a nucleus along the three dimensions
leading to a spherical structure called spherulite

• The amorphous region is in between the crystalline

• Due to highly ordered lamellae in the spherulite, it shows
higher density, hardness, tensile strength, and Young’s modulus


Amorphous region in a polymer at different temperatures

Low temperatures

  Polymer are in,
say, frozen state

  The molecules can
vibrate slightly but are not able to move significantly. This state is referred
as the glassy state

  The polymer is
brittle, hard and rigid analogous to glass.

Hence the name glassy

Higher temperatures

 The polymer chains are able to wiggle around each other,
and the polymer becomes soft and flexible similar to rubber.

 This state is called the rubbery state

Glass transition
temperature (Tg)

• The temperature at which the glassy state makes a
transition to rubbery state is called the glass transition temperature (Tg)

• The glass transition occurs only in the amorphous region,
and the crystalline region remains unaffected during the glass transition

• The glass transition temperature is the property of the
amorphous region of the polymer, whereas the crystalline region is characterized
by the melting point

• Glass transition temperature is the second order
transition, whereas the melting point is the first order transition

transition temperature and melting point

• The semi-crystalline polymer shows both the transitions corresponding
to their crystalline and amorphous regions

   Thus, the
semi-crystalline polymers have true melting temperatures (Tm) at which the
ordered phase turns to disordered phase

• The amorphous regions soften over a temperature range known
as the glass transition (Tg).

• Note: Amorphous polymers do not possess the melting point,
but all polymers possess the glass transition temperature

affecting melting point

• The polymer melting point Tm is increased if the double
bonds, aromatic groups, bulky or large side groups are present in the polymer
chain, because they restrict the flexibility of the chain

• The branching of chains causes the reduction of melting
point, as defects are produced because of the branching

affecting glass transition temperature

1. Intermolecular
Strong intermolecular forces cause higher glass transition

2. Chain Stiffness.
The presence of the stiffening groups (such as amide, sulfone, carbonyl,
p-phenylene etc.) in the polymer chain reduces the flexibility of the chain,
leading to higher glass transition temperature

3. Cross-Linking.
The cross-links between chains restrict rotational motion and raise the glass
transition temperature

4. Molecular Weight.
Tg is increased with the molecular weight

5. Plasticizers.
Plasticizers are low molecular weight and non-volatile materials added to
polymers to increase their chain flexibility. They reduce the intermolecular
cohesive forces between the polymer chains, which in turn decrease Tg

6. Pendant groups

• Bulky pendant
the presence of bulky pendant group, such as a benzene ring, can
restrict rotational freedom, leading to higher glass transition temperature

• Flexible pendant
the presence of flexible pendant groups, for example, aliphatic
chains, limits the packing of the chains and hence increases the rotational motion,
tending to less Tg value

or amorphous – Pharmaceutical perspective

• Polymer strength and stiffness increases with
Crystallinity as a result of increased intermolecular interactions

An amorphous polymer is preferred when the release of a drug
or an active material is intended

• Crystallinity increases the barrier properties of the

• Small molecules like drugs or solvents usually cannot penetrate
or diffuse through crystalline domains

   Good barrier
properties are needed when polymers are used as a packaging material or as a coating


1.   Strength

2.   Percentage
elongation to break (Ultimate Elongation)

3.   Young’s Modulus
(Modulus of Elasticity or Tensile Modulus)

4.   Toughness

5.   Viscoelasticity


• Strength is the stress required to break the sample

• There are several types of the strength, namely,

 Tensile (stretching of the polymer)

 Compressional (compressing the polymer)

 Flexural (bending of the polymer)

 Torsional (twisting of the polymer)

 Impact (hammering)

• The polymers follow the following order of increasing strength:

Linear < branched < cross-linked < network

Affecting the Strength of Polymers

• Molecular Weight:
In case of large molecular weight polymer, the chains become large and hence
are entangled, giving strength to the polymer

• Cross-linking: The
cross-linking restricts the motion of the chains and increases the strength of
the polymer

• Crystallinity: The
crystallinity of the polymer increases strength, because in the crystalline
phase, the intermolecular bonding is more significant

Elongation to Break (Ultimate Elongation)

• It measures the percentage change in the length of the
material before fracture

• It is a measure of ductility

 Ceramics have very low (<1%)

 Metals have moderate (1–50%)

 Thermoplastic (>100%),

 Thermosets (<5%)

Modulus (Modulus of Elasticity or Tensile Modulus)

• Young’s Modulus is the ratio of stress to the strain in
the linearly elastic region

• Elastic modulus is a measure of the stiffness of the



• The  toughness  of 
a  material  is 
given  by  the 
area  under  a stress–strain curve

• The toughness measures the energy absorbed by the material
before it breaks


The rigid materials possess high Young’s modulus (such as brittle

Ductile polymers also possess similar elastic modulus

Elastomers have low values of Young’s modulus and are
rubbery in nature


• There are two types of deformations: elastic and viscous

Elastic deformation

• In the elastic deformation, the strain is generated at the
moment the constant load (or stress) is applied, and this strain is maintained
until the stress is not released

• On removal of the stress, the material recovers its
original dimensions completely, that is the deformation is reversible

Viscous deformation

• In viscous deformation, the strain generated is not instantaneous
and it is time dependent

• The strain keeps on increasing with time on application of
the constant load, that is, the recovery process is delayed

•When the load is removed, the material does not return to
its original dimensions completely, that is, this deformation is irreversible

properties of polymer for pharmaceutical use

• Should be versatile and possess a wide range of
mechanical, physical and chemical properties

• Should be non-toxic and have good mechanical strength and
should be easily administered

• Should be inexpensive

• Should be easy to fabricate

• Should be inert to host and biodegradable  

of Polymers

• Polymers are more resistant to chemicals than their metal

• Polymer parts do not require post-treatment finishing
efforts, unlike metal

• Polymer and composite materials are up to ten times
lighter than typical metals

• Polymer materials handle far better than metals in
chemically harsh environments.

This avoids problems associated with corroding metal

• In  medical  facilities 
polymer  and  composite 
materials  are  easier 
to  clean  and sterilize than metal

• Polymers with desirable properties can be synthesized by
varying the monomers and their composition

applications of polymers

• The desirable polymer properties in pharmaceutical
applications are




Film forming

Rheology Modifier


Controlled Release




Controlled Release

pH-dependent solubility

Taste Masking

Solubility in aqueous solvents

Protection And Packaging

Barrier properties


• In a traditional pharmaceutics area, such as tablet
manufacturing, polymers are used as tablet binders to bind the excipients of
the tablet

• Example: Poly(vinyl pyrrolidone) used as tablet

materials for pharmaceutical products

• Flexible packages are made by the use of thin and flexible
polymer films

• When they are wrapped around a product, they can easily
adapt their shape to conform to the shape of the contents

• The thin, flexible films are usually produced from
cellulose derivatives, Poly(vinyl chloride) 
(PVC),  polyethylene,  polypropylene,  polyamide 
(nylon),  polystyrene, polyesters,
polycarbonate, poly(vinylidene chloride), and polyurethanes

• Heat sealable and are also capable of being laminated to
other materials

• Rigid packages such as bottles, boxes, trays, cups, vials,
and various closures are made from materials of sufficient strength and

• Widely used polymers are high-density polyethylene,
polypropylene, polybutene, poly(vinyl chloride), acrylic copolymers, polycarbonate,
nylon, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET)

• Biodegradable PET is preferred due to environmental
concerns, but it is expensive

Polyisoprene, ethylene propylene/dicylopentadiene copolymer,
styrene/butadiene copolymer, polybutadiene, silicone elastomers, and natural

Taste Masking

• Requirement for bitter drugs

• Applying polymer coatings

• It avoids direct contact of the bitter drug with the taste

A  water-soluble  polymer 
such  as  a 
cellulose  acetate,  cellulose 
butyrate,  hydroxyethyl cellulose
is used in taste masking of bitter drug


Natural sources

Starch, cellulose, alginate, carrageenan, collagen, gelatin,
guar gum, pectin, and xanthan gum


PVA, polyurethanes, acrylic polymers, CMC, HPMC, HMC


• Acacia, alginic acid, bentonite, Carbopols (now known as carbomers),
carboxymethylcellulose, ethylcellulose (EC), gelatin, hydroxyethylcellulose,
hydroxypropyl cellulose, magnesium aluminum silicate, methylcellulose (MC),
poloxamers, polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), sodium alginate, and xanthan gum

Poly (vinyl

Blood bag, hoses, and tubing


Hard contact lenses

Poly (methyl methacrylate)

Soft contact lenses

Poly (hydroxyethyl methacrylate)


Synthetic Polymer

Poly (ethylene oxide)
à Coagulant, flocculent,
swelling agent

Poly (vinyl
Plasma replacement, tablet granulation

Poly (vinyl alcohol)
à Water-soluble
packaging, tablet binder, tablet coating

Poly (ethylene
Plasticizer, base for suppositories

Poly (isopropyl
acrylamide) and poly (cyclopropyl methacrylamide)
à Thermogelling acrylamide
derivatives, its balance of hydrogen bonding, and hydrophobic association
changes with temperature

Biodegradable Polymers

polymers à for
protein delivery


Sodium starch
Superdisintegrant for tablets and capsules in oral delivery

Starch à Glidant, a diluent in
tablets and capsules, a disintegrant in tablets and capsules, a tablet binder

and Rubbers

Polycyanoacrylate à
Biodegradable tissue adhesives in surgery, a drug carrier in nano- and microparticles

Polychloroprene à
Septum for injection, plungers for syringes, and valve components

Polyisobutylene à
Pressure-sensitive adhesives for transdermal delivery

Silicones à
Pacifier, therapeutic devices, implants, medical grade adhesive for transdermal

Polystyrene à
Petri dishes and containers for cell culture

Poly (methyl methacrylate) à
Hard contact lenses

Poly (hydroxyethyl methacrylate) à Soft contact lenses

Poly (vinyl chloride) à
Blood bag, hoses, and tubing


Carrageenan à
Modified release, viscosifier

Chitosan à
Cosmetics and controlled drug delivery applications, mucoadhesive dosage forms,
rapid release dosage forms

Pectinic acid à
Drug delivery

Alginic acid àOral
and topical pharmaceutical products; thickening and suspending agent in a
variety of pastes, creams, and gels, as well as a stabilizing agent for
oil-in-water emulsions; binder and disintegrant

based polymers

Hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose à Binder for tablet matrix and
tablet coating, gelatin alternative as capsule material

Hydroxyethyl and hydroxypropyl cellulose à Soluble in water and
in alcohol, tablet coating


• Historical evolution of polymers from guncotton to today’s
generation of modern polymers can be recalled

• ‘Poly’ means many and ‘mer’ means part

• Polymers are synthesized from monomers                     

• Polymers can be synthesized by addition or

• Addition method is used when there are double bonds in monomers

• Condensation requires reactive groups in monomers

• Polymers are classified based on several factors like,
nature and arrangement of monomers, structure, source and thermal response of

• Physical properties of polymers include molecular weight, degree
of polymerization, crystallinity etc.

• Thermal properties include glass transition temperature
and melting point

• Mechanical properties include strength, elongation,
young’s modulus, toughness and viscoelasticity

• There are some specific properties required of polymers
for pharmaceutical use like, availability at affordable cost, non-toxicity,
biodegradability, etc.

• Specific advantages of polymers lend themselves to
specific applications in pharmaceutical and biomedical fields

• Polymers find applications in conventional and modified
drug delivery systems

• Polymers also find use in packaging and medical device fabrications

• As pharmaceutical excipients in the form of binders,
thickening agents, gelling agents, etc.

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