Calcitonin is a hormone secreted by the C-cells of the thyroid gland in response to elevations of the plasma calcium level. It reduces bone resorption by inhibiting mature active osteoclasts and increases renal calcium excretion. It is used in the management of postmenopausal osteoporosis, Paget’s disease of bone, and malignancy-associated hypercalcemia. Synthetic and recombinant calcitonin preparations are available; both have similar pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic profiles. As calcitonin is a peptide, the traditional method of administration has been parenteral or intranasal. This hinders its clinical use: adherence with therapy is notoriously low, and withdrawal from clinical trials has been problematic. An oral formulation would be more attractive, practical, and convenient to patients. In addition to its effect on active osteoclasts and renal tubules, calcitonin has an analgesic action, possibly mediated through β-endorphins and the central modulation of pain perception. It also exerts a protective action on cartilage and may be useful in the management of osteoarthritis and possibly rheumatoid arthritis. Oral formulations of calcitonin have been developed using different techniques. The most studied involves drug-delivery carriers such as Eligen(®) 8-(N-2hydroxy-5-chloro-benzoyl)-amino-caprylic acid (5-CNAC) (Emisphere Technologies, Cedar Knolls, NJ). Several factors affect the bioavailability and efficacy of orally administered calcitonin, including amount of water used to take the tablet, time of day the tablet is taken, and proximity to intake of a meal. Preliminary results looked promising. Unfortunately, in two Phase III studies, oral calcitonin (0.8 mg with 200 mg 5-CNAC, once a day for postmenopausal osteoporosis and twice a day for osteoarthritis) failed to meet key end points, and in December 2011, Novartis Pharma AG announced that it would not pursue further clinical development of oral calcitonin for postmenopausal osteoporosis or osteoarthritis. A unique feature of calcitonin is that it is able to uncouple bone turnover, reducing bone resorption without affecting bone formation and therefore increasing bone mass and improving bone quality. This effect, however, may be dose-dependent, with higher doses inhibiting both resorption and formation. Because so many factors affect the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of calcitonin, especially orally administered calcitonin, much work remains to be done to explore the full pharmacologic spectrum and potential of calcitonin and determine the optimum dose and timing of administration, as well as water and food intake.
Another successful way of formulating oral calcitonin is by using an acid-resistant enteric coating that prevents dissolution in the stomach and adding citric acid to the tablet core to inhibit intestinal proteases and enhance paracellular transport across the intestinal mucosa. This formulation also has been tested in Phase III studies.