Colonic delivery of metronidazole-loaded capsules for local treatment of bacterial infections: A clinical pharmacoscintigraphy study

Eur J Pharm Biopharm. 2021 Aug:165:22-30. doi: 10.1016/j.ejpb.2021.05.002. Epub 2021 May 7.


Drug delivery to the colon offers great promise for local treatment of colonic diseases as it allows bypassing systemic absorption in the small intestine, thereby increasing luminal drug concentrations in the colon. The primary objective of this in vivo pharmaco-scintigraphy study was to assess the colon drug targeting accuracy of a metronidazole benzoate colonic drug delivery system intended for local treatment of Clostridioides difficile infections. Additionally, it was assessed if the concept of mucoadhesion would increase colonic residence time and promote higher drug bioavailability. Two different capsule formulations were designed and tested in healthy human subjects. Capsules contained either non-mucoadhesive (NM) or mucoadhesive (M) microgranules, both loaded with 100 mg metronidazole benzoate (antibiotic prodrug) and 5 mg samarium oxide (scintigraphy tracer). Filled capsules were coated with a colonic-targeting technology consisting of two functional layers, which allow for accelerated drug release mediated by the intestinal pH in combination with colonic bacteria. Coated capsules were neutron-activated to yield the radioisotope 153Sm prior to administration to 18 healthy subjects. Gamma-scintigraphy imaging was combined with the measurement of drug plasma levels. Formulation NM showed high colon-targeting accuracy. Initial capsule disintegration within the targeted ileocolonic region was observed in 8 out of 9 subjects (89%) with colonic arrival times in the range of 3.5-12 h and reduced systemic exposure. In contrast, the mucoadhesive formulation M showed some inconsistency regarding the site of initial capsule disintegration (targeting accuracy 56%). Variability of drug release was attributed to self-adhesion and agglomeration of the mucoadhesive microparticles within the capsule. Accurate ileocolonic delivery of metronidazole-loaded microgranules was achieved following oral administration of colonic-targeted capsules. Delayed drug release from NM microparticles in the colon leads to a reduced systemic exposure compared to immediate-release data from literature and presumably elevated drug concentrations in the colonic lumen. This approach offers promising options for the local treatment of colonic diseases.

Keywords: Clostridioides difficile; Colonic targeting; Drug delivery; Metronidazole; Microbiota-triggered release; Scintigraphy.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase I

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adult
  • Biological Availability
  • Capsules
  • Cell-Derived Microparticles
  • Colon / diagnostic imaging*
  • Colon / metabolism
  • Colon / microbiology
  • Drug Carriers / chemistry*
  • Drug Liberation
  • Enterocolitis, Pseudomembranous / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / diagnostic imaging*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Intestinal Mucosa / microbiology
  • Male
  • Metronidazole / administration & dosage*
  • Metronidazole / pharmacokinetics
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxides / administration & dosage
  • Radioactive Tracers
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Samarium / administration & dosage
  • Young Adult


  • Capsules
  • Drug Carriers
  • Oxides
  • Radioactive Tracers
  • Metronidazole
  • Samarium
  • samarium oxide