The Next Generation of Cancer Drugs Might Be Made in Space

Space’s microgravity profile presents an opportunity to create perfectly crystalized injectable immunotherapy drugs that couldn’t be made on Earth.
April 16, 2024
Facebook LogoTwitter Icon
Black LinkedIn Icon

Space–the final frontier…for cancer drugs?

When people think of cancer treatment, they often think of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. The latest breakthrough cancer treatment option is immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy has been around for decades, but it took time to become an effective treatment. The therapy helps strengthen the body’s resources to fight cancer and destroy abnormal cells.

Immunotherapies may be administered by injection into a vein, under the skin, or muscle. Depending on certain factors, they may be given daily, weekly, or monthly. Patients often spend hours in hospitals when this treatment is administered.

Why does it take so long? It comes down to the drug's concentration levels. If you could crystallize the drug's proteins, you could potentially get a higher concentration into a smaller volume, reducing the treatment time.

One company, BioOrbit, with funding from the European Space Agency, believes the solution is crystallizing these drug proteins in space. On Earth, sedimentation and convection currents hinder the crystallization process. Crystallization in a microgravity environment has been shown to result in more perfect crystals with a smaller size distribution, which is far better for pharmaceutical use.

microgravity environment on earth vs in space

BioOrbit plans to test its hardware to efficiently crystallize protein drugs on the International Space Station in early 2025. Major pharmaceutical companies such as Bristol Myers Squibb and Merck have dabbled with testing and researching space for drug development and manufacturing for years, but what’s exciting about this recent news is the potential for large-scale commercialization.

There are still many potential hurdles (costs, regulations, quality assurance, etc.) before this becomes a realistic option, but it will be interesting to follow BioOrbit’s development.

Read next