Crystal size, shape, and conformational changes drive both the disappearance and reappearance of ritonavir polymorphs in the mill

Pietro Sacchi, Sarah E. Wright, Petros Neoptolemou, Giulio I. Lampronti, Ashwin Kumar Rajagopalan, Weronika Kras, Caitlin L. Evans, Paul Hodgkinson, Aurora J. Cruz-Cabeza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Organic compounds can crystallize in different forms known as polymorphs. Discovery and control of polymorphism is crucial to the pharmaceutical industry since different polymorphs can have significantly different physical properties which impacts their utilization in drug delivery. Certain polymorphs have been reported to 'disappear' from the physical world, irreversibly converting to new ones. These unwanted polymorph conversions, initially prevented by slow nucleation kinetics, are eventually observed driven by significant gains in thermodynamic stabilities. The most infamous of these cases is that of the HIV drug ritonavir (RVR): Once its reluctant form was unwillingly nucleated for the first time, its desired form could no longer be produced with the same manufacturing process. Here we show that RVR's extraordinary disappearing polymorph as well as its reluctant form can be consistently produced by ball-milling under different environmental conditions. We demonstrate that the significant difference in stability between its polymorphs can be changed and reversed in the mill-a process we show is driven by crystal size as well as crystal shape and conformational effects. We also show that those effects can be controlled through careful design of milling conditions since they dictate the kinetics of crystal breakage, dissolution, and growth processes that eventually lead to steady-state crystal sizes and shapes in the mill. This work highlights the huge potential of mechanochemistry in polymorph discovery of forms initially difficult to nucleate, recovery of disappearing polymorphs, and polymorph control of complex flexible drug compounds such as RVR.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2319127121
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number15
Early online date1 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - 9 Apr 2024


  • crystal polymorphism
  • mechanochemistry
  • particle size and shape
  • pharmaceuticals


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