Colorcon makes pills of all shapes, sizes and colors

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Colorcon makes pills of all shapes, sizes and colors

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Colorcon Korea CEO Kim Jin-hee presents samples of red, orange, blue, and yellow powders for pills. The Korean branch of the global pharmaceutical service provider is based in the College of Pharmacy of Sungkyunkwan University. By Choi Seung-shik

Forget the stereotype that pills should only be white. It’s not just outdoor sport wear - pills can be colorful and come in orange, yellow, pink and blue. Coloring pills is not the job of pharmaceutical companies, but that of Colorcon, a global supplier of pharmaceutical excipients and services. Headquartered in Philadelphia in the United States, Colorcon is a multinational design and consulting company for pharmaceutical firms. The company has a research center in Korea where domestically produced drugs are colorfully coated.

“What we sell is something like the instant coffee mix. We make color powder that will make pills colorful,” Kim Jin-hee, 50, CEO of Colorcon Korea said. “Drug makers can make their pills colored only by adding water to the powder.” Colorcon Korea provides about 20,000 different colors for drug makers around the world, she said. Its sales remain between 800 billion ($705 million) and 900 billion won.

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, Kim demonstrated in person how to color pills.

She put around 50 pills into a machine that looks like a drum-type washer. As she pressed the on button, the drum in the machine started rolling and pink-colored water spun out from nozzles in the machine, dyeing the pills.

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From left to right, Boryung Pharm’s Kanarb for high blood pressure, vitamin and stomach pills made by a Chinese drugmaker, and SK Chemical’s Mvix for erectile dysfunction. [JoongAng Ilbo]

“Our job is to maintain the color quality, because customers might think the pills are expired if the colors look a bit different,” Kim said.

It is also important to produce colors that are suitable for certain types of pills. Some pills go black when soaked in water, while others fade in the sun.

Recently, the company’s business portfolio has moved onto design consulting for pills. SK Chemical and Boryung Pharm held a consultation with Colorcon to launch their new drugs. SK Chemical’s Mvix, an erectile-dysfunction pill, became the talk of the town when it was launched due to its bullet-like shape.

“Since SK Chemical was a newcomer in the market, the company wanted to show by design the strong effectiveness of its product,” Kim explained. “To highlight that point, we made the pill a bullet shape and colored it orange, so it is recognized as powerful but safe at the same time.”

The Korean pharmaceutical industry takes a conservative stance on the design of pills, compared to the U.S. and Europe.

Only seven to eight colors are allowed to be used for drugs in Korea. As for shape, drugs are preferred to be circular or oval.

However, the design competition is expected to become fiercer in the domestic drug industry, because drug makers are eager to develop new drugs that are unique in design and color in order to prevent generics from growing.


By Song Su-hyun [ssh@joongang.co.kr]

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