KENNEDY SPACE CENTER (FL), March 14, 2023 – For patients requiring time-consuming intravenous (IV) infusions, such as people living with cancer, reformulating a therapeutic could mean the difference between traveling to a clinic for lengthy treatments or going to their local doctor for a quick injection. A project from pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb will leverage the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory to improve the crystallization of biologic medicines (protein-based therapeutics derived from living cells). Results could allow the company to enhance the formulation and stability of the drugs so they could be given as an injection just under the skin.
Like when sugar crystallizes under the right conditions, protein crystallization happens when proteins form ordered, three-dimensional structures. The sustained microgravity on the ISS, where gravity-driven forces are removed, provides ideal conditions for growing high-quality crystals. On SpaceX’s upcoming 27th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission, Bristol Myers Squibb will send a selection of its biologic medicines for crystallization on the ISS. These therapeutics are usually given to patients through infusions. However, if Bristol Myers Squibb can perfect its ability to crystalize these drugs, patients may be able to receive a more potent and stable dose suitable for injection. This ISS National Lab-sponsored investigation will build on the company’s previous crystal growth experiments on the ISS to improve crystallization methods and help Bristol Myers Squibb provide enhanced products to patients.
“Microgravity gives us higher-resolution crystals that offer information we can leverage for designing new drugs. High-quality crystals grown in space give us a better understanding of how the molecules interact than is possible on Earth,” said Robert Garmise, associate director of material science and engineering at Bristol Myers Squibb. “A crystal structure can inform ways for us to stabilize those molecules to provide improved therapeutics to patients.”
The study, conducted over several months on the ISS, will involve crystallizing multiple protein-based biologics using a state-of-the-art vapor diffusion method and batch crystallization. The proteins will then be analyzed back on Earth in various ways, including X-ray diffraction, a powerful technique that allows scientists to study the three-dimensional structure of proteins. Crystals grown in space will be compared with crystals from the biologics grown on Earth.
Bristol Myers Squibb is excited to take advantage of access to space through the ISS National Lab, Garmise says, as researchers were confined to Earth’s conditions not long ago. “It really opens the horizons and allows us to be innovative in our work,” he said. “Thanks to the access provided by the ISS National Lab, we can advance our mission to improve the quality of our drug products and identify new types of drugs to meet the unmet medical needs of our patients.”
This is just one of more than 15 ISS National Lab-sponsored payloads on SpaceX CRS-27, launching from Kennedy Space Center no earlier than March 14 at 8:30 p.m. EDT. Please visit our launch page to learn more about all ISS National Lab-sponsored research.
Download a high-resolution image for this release: SpaceX CRS-27: Bristol Myers Squibb
# # #
About the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory: The International Space Station (ISS) is a one-of-a-kind laboratory that enables research and technology development not possible on Earth. As a public service enterprise, the ISS National Lab allows researchers to leverage this multiuser facility to improve life on Earth, mature space-based business models, advance science literacy in the future workforce, and expand a sustainable and scalable market in low Earth orbit. Through this orbiting national laboratory, research resources on the ISS are available to support non-NASA science, technology, and education initiatives from U.S. government agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, Inc. (CASIS) manages the ISS National Lab, under Cooperative Agreement with NASA, facilitating access to its permanent microgravity research environment, a powerful vantage point in low Earth orbit, and the extreme and varied conditions of space. To learn more about the ISS National Lab, visit www.ISSNationalLab.org.
# # #