Abstract Pellets containing microcrystalline cellulose (MCC), a model drug (theophylline) and a range of levels of sodium alginate (i.e., 10–50% w/w) were prepared by extrusion/spheronization. Two types of sodium alginate were evaluated with and without the addition of either calcium acetate or calcium carbonate (0, 0.3, 3 and 10% w/w). The effects of amount and type of sodium alginate and calcium salts on pellet properties, e.g., size, shape, morphology and drug release behavior, were investigated. Most pellet formulations resulted in pellets of a sufficient quality with respect to size, size distribution and shape. The results showed that the amounts of sodium alginate and calcium salts influenced the size and shape of the obtained pellets. However, different types of sodium alginate and calcium salt responded to modifications to a different extent. A cavity was observed in the pellet structure, as seen in the scanning electron micrographs, resulting from the forces involved in the spheronization process. Most of pellet formulations released about 75–85% drug within 60 min. Incorporation of calcium salts in the pellet formulations altered the drug release, depending on the solubility of the calcium salts used. The drug release data showed a good fit into both Higuchi and Korsmeyer–Peppas equations.