Application of natural and modified Polymers in Novel Drug Delivery:

A review


Sandip Murtale1, Prakash Goudanavar1, Ankit Acharya1, Jaytheertha Lokapur1, R. S. Chitti2, Jeet Bahadur Moktan2

1Department of Pharmaceutics, Sri Adichunchanagiri College of Pharmacy, B.G.Nagara-571448.

2Department of Pharmacy Practice, Sri Adichunchanagiri College of Pharmacy, B.G.Nagara-571448.

*Corresponding Author E-mail:



Polymers are high molecular weight compounds consisting of monomers which are repeating small unitsí offers as a backbone to the macromolecular structure. Natural polymers can be rendered water-soluble by chemical modification have been the subject of extensive technical reviews and original research reports, over the past fifty years. Early interests of natural polymers were associated with the food, paper, leather and textile industries and to a lesser extent, the cosmetics and Pharmaceutical industries. These natural polymers have advantages over synthetic polymers, since these are chemically inert, nontoxic, less expensive, biodegradable and widely available. Natural polymer can also be modified in different ways to obtain tailor made materials for drug-delivery systems and thus can compete with the available synthetic polymer. Moreover, the large number of pharma industry showed their interest towards these naturally derived polymers to discover, extract and purify such compounds from the natural origin. Modified polymers are the potent candidates to be used in various pharmaceutical dosages as a potential candidate for novel drug delivery system (NDDS). Therefore in this review, potential application of modified and non-modified natural polymers in various drug delivery systems has been described.


KEYWORDS: Natural polymer, inert, nontoxic, biodegradable, modified polymers, chemical modification, novel drug delivery system.




Polymers are high molecular weight compounds consisting of monomers which are repeating small unitsí offers as a backbone to the macromolecular structure1. Upon hydrolysis, polymers yield monosaccharide units like arabinose, galactose, glucose, mannose, xylose or uronic acids. The polysaccharide gums represent one of the most abundant industrial biomaterials and have been reported by several studies due to their sustainability, biodegradability and biosafety. Gums are abundant in nature and commonly found in many higher plants, they are frequently produced as a protection mechanism following plant injury2.


Natural gums are considered polysaccharides present in kinds of plant seeds and exudates, tree or shrub exudates, seaweed extracts, fungi, bacteria, and animal sources. Water-soluble gums, also referred to as hydrocolloids, are considered exudates and are pathological products. On the other hand, it is important to highlight those gums represent the largest amounts of polymer materials derived from plants3.


Nowadays, much emphasis has been given on the use of various natural polymers as drug delivery carriers in the pharmaceutical field including the most recent nanomaterials. The outstanding properties of the natural polymers are their degradation and erosion behaviour and so they are called as natural biodegradable polymers4. These can be degraded or eroded by enzymes introduced in-vitro or generated by surrounding living cells. Thus the biocompatibility and biodegradability of many naturally occurring polysaccharides make them useful as drug carriers5,6. Natural polymers have also got advantage that they pose less toxicity problems of their own. But sometimes biopolymers also differ in their relative molecular mass and their physical and chemical properties to varying extents counting on their sources and method of isolation and purification7, 8. Traditionally, excipients were included in drug formulations as inert vehicles that provided the specified weight, consistency and volume for the proper administration of the active ingredient, but in modern pharmaceutical dosage forms they often used for multi-functional roles like improvement of the stability, release and bioavailability of the active ingredient, enhancement of patient acceptability and performance of technological functions that ensure simple manufacture9,10.


Polymeric materials have fulfilled different roles such gums have enormously large and broad applications in both food and non-food industries, being commonly used as thickening, binding, emulsifying, suspending, stabilizing agents and matrices for drug release in pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.3 The utilization of gums depends on the intrinsic properties that they supply as binders, matrix formers or drug release modifiers, film coating formers, thickeners or viscosity enhancers, stabilisers disintegrates, solubilizes, emulsifiers, suspending agents, gelling agents and bioadhesives11-15.


Polymers are often utilized in design of novel drug delivery systems such as targeted drug delivery of the drug to a selected region within the alimentary canal or in response to external stimuli to release the drug. This can be done via different mechanisms including coating of tablets with polymers having pH dependent solubilities or incorporating non-digestible polymers that are degraded by bacterial enzymes within the colon. Non-starch, linear polysaccharides are immune to the digestive action of the gastrointestinal enzymes and retain their integrity within the upper alimentary canal. Matrices manufactured from these polysaccharides therefore remain intact within the stomach and therefore the intestine, but once they reach the colon they're degraded by the bacterial polysaccharidases. Such properties make these polysaccharides exceptionally suitable for the formulation of colon-targeted drug delivery systems16-19.


The drug release from the biodegradable natural polymeric system is typically controlled by three competing mechanisms like diffusion, swelling and erosion. Sodium alginate, Xanthan gum20-23, gum Arabic24-27, Tragacanth28, Gellan gum29-32 are a number of the natural polymers that have already been explored within the pharmaceutical field for his or her role in drug delivery systems as carriers. The source of natural polymers is that the carbohydrate molecules. These polysaccharides are extracted or isolated from plant seed. Natural gums also can be modified to satisfy the wants of drug delivery systems and thus can compete with the synthetic excipients available within the market33.


Classification of gums and mucilages:

The different available gums and mucilages can be classified as follows:


According to the charge:

Non-ionic seed gums: guar, locust bean, tamarind, xanthan, amylose, Arabians, cellulose, and galactomannans.

Anionic gums: Arabic, Karaya, tragacanth, gellan, agar, carrageenan and pectin acid.


According to the source:

a.     Marine origin/Algal (Seaweed) gums: Agar, Carrageenan, alginic acid, laminarin.

b.     Plant origin:

i.      Shrubs/tree exudates: Gum arabica, gum ghatti, gum karaya, gum tragacanth, khaya, albizia gums, etc.

ii.    Seed gums: Guar gum, locust bean gum, starch, amylose, cellulose, etc.

iii.  Extracts: Pectin, larch gum.

iv.   Tuber and roots: Potato starch.

c.     Animal origin: chitin and chitosan, chondroitin sulfate, hyaluronic acid.

d.     Microbial origin (bacterial and fungal): Xanthan, dextran, curdian, pullulan, zanflo, emulsan,


Semi-synthetic polymer:

1.     Starch derivatives: Hetastarch, starch acetate, starch phosphates.

2.     Cellulose derivatives: Carboxy methyl cellulose (CMC), hydroxy ethylcellulose, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (HPMC), methyl-cellulose (MC), microcrystalline, cellulose (MCC).


According to shape:

i.      Linear: Algins, amylose, cellulose, pectins.

ii.    Branched: Short branches example xanthan, xylan, galactomannan.

iii.  Branch-on-branch: amylopectin, gum Arabic, tragacanth.


According to manomeric units in chemical structure:

Homoglycans: amylose, arabinanas, cellulose; diheteroglycans-algins, carragennans, galactomannans34.


Need of natural polymers:

1.     Biodegradable: Present polymers produced by all living organisms. They show no adverse effects on the environment or person.

2.     Biocompatible and non-toxic: Chemically, nearly all of those plant materials are carbohydrates in nature and composed of repeating monosaccharide units. Hence they're non-toxic.

3.     Economic: They're cheaper and their cost is a smaller amount than synthetic material.

4.     Safe and barren of side effects: They're from a natural source and hence, safe and without side effects.

5.     Easy availability: In many countries, they're produced thanks to their application in many industries35.


Disadvantages of natural Polymers:

1.     Microbial contamination: During production, they're exposed to the external environment, and hence, there are chances of microbial contamination.

2.     Batch to batch variation: Synthetic manufacturing may be a controlled procedure with fixed quantities of ingredients while the assembly of natural polymers depends on the environment and various physical factors.

3.     The uncontrolled rate of hydration: Due to differences within the gathering of natural materials at different times, also as differences in region, species, and climate conditions the share of chemical constituents present during a given material may vary35.

4.     The production rate depends upon the environment and lots of other factors, it canít be changed. So natural polymers have a slow rate of production.

5.     There are chances of heavy metal contamination often associated with herbal excipients36.

6.     Microbial contamination: The equilibrium moisture content present within the gums and mucilages are typically 10% or more and, structurally, they're carbohydrates and, during production, they're exposed to the external environment and, so there's an opportunity of microbial contamination. However, this will be prevented by proper handling, and therefore, the use of preservatives.

7.     Batch to batch variation: Synthetic manufacturing may be a controlled procedure with fixed quantities of ingredients, while the assembly of gums and mucilage s depends on environmental and seasonal factors.

8.     Uncontrolled rate of hydration: Due to differences within the gathering of natural materials at different times, also as differences in region, species, and climate conditions the share of chemical constituents present during a given material may vary. There's a requirement to develop suitable monographs on available gums and mucilages.

9.     Reduced viscosity on storage: Normally, when gums and mucilages inherit contact with water there's an increase within the viscosity of the formulations. Thanks to the complex nature of gums and mucilages (monosaccharides to polysaccharides and their derivatives), it's been found that after storage there's reduced in viscosity37, 38.


Purpose of modification of natural polymer:

1.     To target at a specific site: 5-amino 2-hydroxybenzoic acid drug used for colitis was formulated using cross-linked chitosan. It showed disintegration in intestine and absorption occurred in the intestine which wasn't seen within the formulation with chitosan39.

2.     To make the polymers more heat or moisture-resistant: Cellulose ester is more heat-resistant than cellulose. Studies are performed on modifications of polymers and it had been found to decrease the degradation rate of the polymer thus making it heat and moisture resistant40.

3.     To alter its solubility, more sustainable: Derivatization of chitosan showed increased solubility in water also as other organic solvents. Enzymatic method using hemicellulose enzyme was wont to hydrolyze chitosan and reduce its relative molecular mass thus increasing its solubility41.

4.     To make it more flexible, more transparent, and more compatible and/or biodegradable: Kappa carrageenan has been subjected to play a crucial role as radical scavengers in vitro and antioxidants for prevention of oxidative damage in living organisms. Although k-carrageenan has a wide application range, it suffers from certain drawbacks like biodegradability, which limits its use considerably42.

5.     Biopolymers have unique characteristics like antimicrobial effects. Effects that may be wont to add value to finish products: Chitosan has antimicrobial activity, and it's been tried to develop by derivatization43.

6.     To reduce the toxicity: Gum blocks your gastrointestinal track contributing to blockage of absorption of other critical substances. For instance, large amounts of gum may prevent metformin, an anti-diabetic, from being absorbed within the intestines. In diabetic patients where it's necessary to possess a stable concentration of metformin, the severe fluctuation is often seen due to gum. This will be reduced by the use of its derivative44.

7.     Structural elucidations: The degree of substitution of cellulose and its derivative is often recognized by the use of NMR technique45, 46.


Application of natural and modified polymers in drug delivery system:

Drug delivery is the method or process of administering pharmaceutical compound to achieve a therapeutic effect in humans or animals. Drug delivery technologies modify drug release profile, absorption, distribution and elimination for the benefit of improving product efficacy, safety, as well as patient compliance and convenience. Controlled drug delivery technology represents one of the most rapidly advancing areas of science in which chemists and chemical engineers are contributing to human health care48-55.


The selection of a polymer is a challenging task for controlled drug delivery system because of the inherent diversity of structures and thus it requires a thorough understanding of the surface and bulk properties of the polymer that can give the desired chemical, interfacial, mechanical and biological functions. The choice of polymer, in addition to its physico-chemical properties, is dependent on the need for extensive biochemical characterization and specific preclinical tests to prove its safety. Surface properties such as hydrophilicity, lubricity, smoothness and surface energy govern the biocompatibility with tissues and blood, in addition to influencing physical properties such as durability, permeability and degradability56-60.


There are various modified biodegradable polymers currently being investigated as drug delivery systems or as scaffolds for tissue engineering. Biodegradable polymers are mainly used where the transient existence of materials is required and they find applications as sutures, scaffolds for tissue regeneration, tissue adhesives, haemostats, and transient barriers for tissue adhesion, as well as drug delivery systems. The majority of responsive polymers for drug delivery can be broadly categorized as hydrogels, micelles, polyplexes, or polymer-drug conjugates, which are covered in more detail below (table 1, 2, and 3)61-64.


Table no. 1: Pharmaceutical applications or uses of natural gums and mucilages

Common Name

Botanical Name

Pharmaceutical Applications


Abelmoschus mucilage

Abehnoschus Esculentus

Binder in tablets

62, 63,


Gelidium antansii

Suspending agent, emulsifying agent, gelling agent


Albizia gum

Albizia zygia

Tablet binder


Aloe mucilage

Aloe species

Gelling agent


Asario mucilage

Lepidum sativum

Suspending agent, emulsifying Agent

67, 68,

Bavchi mucilage

Ocimum camum

Suspending agent, emulsifying Agent



Chondrus Cryspus

Gelling agent, stabilizer in emulsions and suspensions

69, 70, 71

Cashew gum

Anacardium occidentale

Suspending agent

72, 73

Cassia tora

Cassia tora Linn

Binding agent


Fenugreek mucilage

Trigonella foenumgraecum

Gelling agent, binder, sustaining agent, emollient, demulcent

75, 76, 77

Guar gum

Cvamonipsis tetraganolobus

Binder, disintegrant, thickening agent, emulsifier, laxative

78, 79, 80, 81,

Gum acacia

Acacia arabica

Suspending agent and emulsifying agent


Gum ghatti

Anogeissus latifolia

Binder, emulsifier, suspending agent


Gum tragacanth

Astragalus gummifer

Suspending agent, emulsifying agent, demulcent and emollient in cosmetics


Hibiscus mucilage

Hibiscus esculentus

Emulsifying agent, suspending agent

85, 86

Hibiscus mucilage

Hibiscus rosasinensis

Suspending agent

87, 88, 89

Ispagol mucilage

Plantago psyllium, Plantago ovata

Cathartic, lubricant, demulcent, laxative, sustaining agent, binder, emulsifying and suspending agent

90, 91, 92, 93, 94

Karaya gum

Sterculia urens

Suspending agent, emulsifying agent, dental adhesive, sustaining agent in tablets, bulk laxative

95, 96

Khaya gum

Khaya grandifolia

Binding agent


Leucaena seed gum


Emulsifying agent, suspending agent, binder in tablets, disintegrating agent in tablets

98, 99, 100, 101, 102

Ocimum Mucilage

Ocimum gratissimum Linn

Suspending agent, binding agent

103, 104


Citrus aurantium

Thickening agent, suspending agent, protective agent

105, 106

Satavari mucilage

Asparagus racemosus

Binding agent and sustaining agent in tablets


Sodium alginate

Macrocytis pyrifera

Suspending agent, gelation for dental films, stabilizer, sustained release agent, tablet coating

108, 109, 110, 111, 112

Tamarind seed

Tamarindus indica

Binding agent, emulsifier, suspending agent,


Xanthan gum

Xanthomonas lempestris

Suspending agent, emulsifier, stabilizer†† in toothpaste

95, 114

Gellan gum

Pseudomonas elodea

Disintegrating agent



Table no. 2: Applications of gums and mucilages in NDDS

Common name

Botanical name

Pharmaceutical applications



Acacia senegal

Osmotic drug delivery

116, 117

Bhara gum

Terminalia bellerica roxb





Colon specific drug delivery, microspheres, carrier for nanoparticles

119, 120

Cordia gum

Cordia obliqua willed

Novel oral sustained release matrix forming agent in tablets


Cactus mucilage

Opuntia ficus- indica

Gelling agent in sustained drug delivery


Guar gum

Cyamomtpsis tetraganolobus

Colon targeted drug delivery, cross-linked microspheres

123, 124, 125

Gellan gum

Pseudomonas elodea

Ophthalmic drug delivery, Sustaining agent, beads, hydrogels. Floating in-situ gelling, controlled release beads

126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131


Hakea gibbosa

Sustained release and mucoadhesive for buccal delivery

132, 133


Plantago psyllium, Plantago ovate

Hydrogels, colon drug delivery, gastroretentive drug delivery

134, 135, 136, 137

Karaya gum

Sterculia urens

Mucoadhesive and buccoadhesive


Locust bean gum

Ceratania siliqua

Controlled release agent


Mucuna gum

Mucuna flagillepes




Hibiscus esculentus

Hydrophilic matrix for controlled release drug delivery



Citrus aurantium

Beads, floating beads, colon drug delivery, pelletization by extrusion /spheronization, micro particulate delivery, transdermal delivery. Iontophoresis, hydrogels

142, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149

Sodium alginate

Macrocytis pjwifera

Bio-adhesive microspheres.

nanoparticles, microencapsulation



Tamarindus indica

Hydrogels, mucoadhesive drug delivery for ocular purposes, spheroids, nasal drug delivery

151, 152

Xanthan gum

Xanthomonas lenipestris

Pellets, controlled drug delivery system

153, 154


Table no. 3: Examples of modified gums with their applications

Gums and mucilage

Modification technique



Karaya gum

Heat treatment at various temperatures in a hot air oven

Disintegrating agent

155, 156

Agar and Guar gum

Heat treatment at various temperatures in a hot air oven along with co-grinding of both materials

Disintegrating agent


Hypochlorite potato starch

Chemical modification of potato starch carried out in presence of hypochloride

Disintegrating agent



Chemical modification of Tragacanth using epichlorhydrine

Disintegrating agent


Acacia gum

Chemical modification of acacia gum using epichlorhydrine

Disintegrating agent


Guar gum

Chemical modification of guar gum

Disintegrating agent


Cross-linked amylase

Chemical modification of amylase by substitution reaction

Disintegrating, binder


Cross-linked cellulose

Chemical modification of cellulose by epichlorhydrine

Disintegrating, binder



Chemical modification of Polyalkylamine

Disintegrating agent



Physical modification - co- drying of micro crystalline cellulose with cyclodextrin

Disintegrating agent



Physico-chemical treatment of starch for modification

Disintegrating, binder


Sesbania gum

Chemical modification of Sesbania gum with tartaric acid for a sustained release formulation and chemical modification of gum with acetone: chloroform mixture for gelling agent.

Sustained release formulation, gelling agent

167, 168

Guar gum

Chemical modification of guar gum with glutaraldehyde for colonic delivery, chemical modification using is propanol as a film coating material.

Colonic delivery, film coating, hydrogel

169, 170,

171, 172, 173

Tamarind Powder

Chemical modification of tamarind powder using epichlorohydrin

Sustained release, recta delivery

174, 175


Chemical modification of psyllium was carried out to form N- hydroxymethyl acrylamide-based hydrogels

N- hydroxyl methyl acrylamide-based hydrogels

176, 177, 178, 179

Hibiscus esculentus

Chemical modification with acrylamide synthesis.

Controlled delivery


Ipomoea dasysperma, Ipomoea hederacea,

Chemical modification of ipomoea with poly- (acrylonitrile) grafted drug delivery.

Acrylonitrile grafted drug delivery



Chemical modification of pectin with acetyl chloride in ethanol for modified drug delivery, chemical modification with ethanolamine for hydrogels and chemical modification of pectin for colonic drug delivery.

Modified drug delivery. hydrogels, colonic drug delivery

182, 183, 184



This article provides valuable information regarding the natural polymers and their pharmaceutical applications. Natural polymers are promising non-toxic biodegradable polymeric materials. Many studies have been carried out in fields of food and pharmaceutical industries using natural polymers. Clearly natural polymers have many advantages over synthetic ones. Various applications of natural polymers have been established in the field of pharmaceuticals. However, there is urgent need to modify the property of polymer of natural sources, as they possess several drawbacks. Hence these modified systems can be used in novel drug-delivery systems, biotechnological applications and other delivery systems. Therefore, in the years to come, there will be continued interest in natural polymers and their modifications aimed at the development of better materials for novel drug delivery system.



Authors want to acknowledge the facilities provided by the Principal, Sri Adichunchanagiri College of Pharmacy, B.G.Nagara-571448, Karnataka, India.



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Received on 25.07.2020†††††††† †† Modified on 24.12.2020

Accepted on 14.03.2021†††††††† † © RJPT All Right Reserved

Research J. Pharm. and Tech 2021; 14(12):6732-6740.

DOI: 10.52711/0974-360X.2021.01163