Just what the doctor ordered

Ashland’s Sangrama Sahoo helps drug makers improve solubility of active pharmaceutical ingredients

Little tablets are big business. The worldwide market for pharmaceuticals topped $850 billion in 2012.

One reason: Over the past decade, the percentage of Americans taking five or more prescription medications per month has grown by 70 percent. Frequently, that means multiple doses per day, a lot of medicine to keep organized.

That is a concern for Sangrama Sahoo, a senior staff scientist for Ashland Specialty Ingredients who works on the issue of drug solubility – how effectively the active ingredients in your medications dissolve and are absorbed into the bloodstream.

“If you take a 100 milligram pill and only 10 percent solubilizes, you are only getting 10 percent of the medicine,” he explains. “If a drug is not getting consumed in our body, it goes out (through excretion). So you want to have a binder system – a soluble system – that can help deliver more.”

Growing challenge
The problem is that since the mid-1990s, research has focused on ingredients that are highly specific to where they are delivered in the body, as well as how they bind to their targets. This trend has produced a growing number of poorly-soluble drugs, meaning more doses are required.

Ashland’s AquaSolve™ hydroxypropylmethylcellulose acetate succinate (HPMCAS), introduced in September 2013, is a significant step toward increased solubility.

About AquaSolve HPMCAS

AquaSolve HPCMAS is a polymer made of cellulose that enhances the ability of active ingredients to dissolve in water. It has a wide range of formulation flexibility and can be used as a film coating for tablets, capsules or granules, or in combination with other binders for granules to be released over time.

Sold in the UK as AquaSolve AS, it is available in several grades and two particle sizes.

“AquaSolve HPMCAS is a very unique product,” says Sahoo. “We can change the composition to tune it for different kinds of drugs, depending on their behavior. And if you have a better, more soluble drug, people have to consume fewer drugs.”

Sahoo’s role in Ashland’s Wilmington, Del., labs is at the controls of our nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy equipment, analyzing relationships between AquaSolve HPMCAS and pharmaceutical formulations. One of his key contributions has been streamlining the testing process to allow for greater volume of business.

By the numbers infographic

“When I joined Ashland, we used to run 2,000 samples per year. Last year we ran 9,000. So that is almost a 400-percent increase, because of some of the methods I developed,” he says. “The customers are getting information faster and can experiment faster. That has resulted in a faster timeline.”

In addition to accelerating the process, Sahoo and his team also focus on sharply narrowing down a customer’s request to determine exactly what will solve their problem.

“For each product, there can be many solutions,” he explains. “All of the solutions may not be so important or desirable. You must listen and define the problem.

“Then we make it as simple as we can, so there is a minimization of error. I like to do it simpler and I like to do it faster, because speed is a valuable asset,” he says.

Sahoo has been doing spectroscopy for nearly 20 years, performing analysis of lubricants, polymers, biomaterials  and nanocomposites.

“That added knowledge, I can apply here,” he says. “I have knowledge of both theoretical and applied magnetic resonance spectroscopy , so that helps me devise new solutions for us.”

Innovation, Sahoo believes, is a matter of taking small steps.

“Our ultimate goal is to solve the problem. There might be existing material you find in research; some from other areas of science completely unrelated. You adapt and solve it and you have to be innovative about it,” he says.

“You cannot come up with new solutions every day unless you are innovative. You cannot be rigid with your approach. Something comes up and it hits you and you find a better way of doing things, but you cannot plan for it,” he says.

Precise thinking
“You cannot think about innovations,” he adds. “You have to think about solutions.”

That sort of thinking helped AquaSolve HPMCAS come to fruition.

“It was a new chemistry for us,” Sahoo recalls. “We were adding something to the product and didn’t have a method to look at it at a deeper level. I came up with a method where we can look into where we are substituting and how it is happening.

“That led us to make some interesting choices that gave us a new functionality. There are very tight (specifications) in a pill, but we found unique combinations and stayed within the pharmacopeia standards.”

And that could lead to fewer doses for all of us.



Meet Sangrama Sahoo

Sangrama Sahoo is a native of Cuttack, India, an eastern town of 600,000 that he describes as “small.” He grew up as the oldest of four children, the son of a businessman and homemaker. He fondly remembers the city’s famous Dusshera festival, a 10-day celebration of the goddess Durga. “It’s a lot of family, friends coming over and parties,” he says. “We go out and have fun.”

He was educated in India, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Utkal University before going to the Indian Institute of Petroleum, where he was a research fellow while working on his doctorate.

While at Utkal, he met his wife, Sujata, who had a career as a polymer chemist before choosing to stay at home with their sons, Swaroop, 5, and Sameep, 3 months.

Sahoo immigrated to the U.S. in 2000, doing post-doctoral research on engineering polymers at the University of Massachusettes-Lowell. He then moved to the University of Akron, where he spent five years researching polymer science in the chemistry department. In 2005, he joined the chemistry department at the University of Pennsylvania, studying and managing nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy of polymers, ethers and esters. Since 2007, he has been with Ashland in Wilmington, Del.

Sangrama Sahoo and family
The Sahoo family at home

Honors and awards

  • Travel grant for presentation at American Chemical Society national meeting, 1999
  • Council of Scientific and Industrial Research Fellowship, 1996-2000
  • National Eligibility Test Fellowship, 1995
  • First position in master’s chemistry and Narayanee Mohanty Award, 1995

Professional affiliations

  • American Chemical Society
  • Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society
  • International Society of Magnetic Resonance


  • “Ultrafast Synthesis of Ultrahigh Molar Mass Polymers by Metal-Catalyzed Living Radical Polymerization of Acrylates, Methacrylates and Vinyl Chloride Mediated by SET at 25º C,” with Virgil Percec, Tamaz Guliashvili, Janine Ladislaw, Anna Wistrand, Anna Stjerndahl, Monika Sienkowskaand, Michael Monteiro, Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2006.
  • “3D-NMR Studies of B-centered n-ad Structures in Poly(ethylene-co-13C-n-butylacrylate-co- carbon monoxide),” with Masud Monwar, Elizabeth McCord, Sam Arthur, David Walsh and Peter L. Rinaldi, Macromolecules, 2006.
  • “A Suite of 3D NMR Methods for Characterizing Complex Hydrocarbon Structure Fragments,” with McCord and Rinaldi, Journal of Magnetic Resonance, 2004.
  • “Solid-State NMR Studies of Enzymatically Synthesized Polyaniline,” with Ramaswamy Nagarajan, Sucharita Roy, Lynne Samuelson, Jayant Kumar and Ashok Cholli, Macromolecules, 2004.
  • “Enzymatic Polymerization of p-Cresol: An in-situ NMR Approach to Understand Coupling Mechanism,” with Wei Liu, Samuelson, Kumar and Cholli, Macromolecules, 2002.