Bristol Myers Squibb Takes Off on Latest SpaceX Flight for Protein Crystallization Research

Bristol Myers Squibb Takes Off on Latest SpaceX Flight for Protein Crystallization Research

Caption: SpaceX’s latest mission to the International Space Station (ISS) included about 20 research payloads sponsored by the ISS National Laboratory, including a Bristol Myers Squibb project.

Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) is taking to some great heights as it boarded a SpaceX flight this month for some biomanufacturing exploration in space.

BMS sent a biologics project on board the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft’s 27th commercial resupply services (CRS-27) mission to the International Space Station (ISS), which took off on March 14 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

BMS researchers on the mission will study the crystallization of an assortment of their biologics medicines in microgravity.

According to a press release from the ISS National Lab, which outlines the research payload of its latest flight to the ISS, the BMS research aims to identify the physical conditions that result in large, high-quality crystals in microgravity.

Under microgravity, some crystals grow larger and more well ordered than on Earth, yielding higher quality crystal structures than those that can be made on Earth.

By growing high quality crystal structures of protein-based therapeutics under microgravity, researchers can gain better insights into their complex structures and stability. This can help guide better drug formulations, delivery of higher therapeutic doses and improved biomanufacturing processes.

SpaceX’s latest mission to the International Space Station (ISS) included about 20 research payloads sponsored by the ISS National Laboratory, including Bristol Myers Squibb’s project.

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The current investigation builds on a project from 2020 when BMS set out on SpaceX’s CRS-21 to look at ways to improve crystallizing monoclonal antibodies to gain better insights into their structure and crystallization kinetics in microgravity with the overarching goal of improving drug formulation and delivery.

“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 BMS in another news release from ISS Lab. “A crystal structure can inform ways for us to stabilize those molecules to provide improved therapeutics to patients.”

The study will be conducted over several months on the ISS and will involve crystallizing different protein-based biologics using a state-of-the-art vapor diffusion method and batch crystallization. The proteins will be analyzed back on Earth using techniques such as X-ray diffraction and compared with crystals from the same biologics grown on Earth.

ISS Lab’s latest mission also includes two projects involving the use of cardiac tissue chips to improve understanding of heart disease and develop new treatments. The projects are funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through a multiyear partnership with ISS National Lab on the Tissue Chips in Space initiative. The projects also involve teams of researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Stanford University.

Another ISS Lab-sponsored project that went to orbit on SpaceX CRS-27 is from US technology company L3Harris, which is looking to test 3D-printed radio frequency (RF) circuits, RF communications systems and other materials for developing smaller, more cost-effective satellites.

Other big pharma companies that have taken R&D projects to orbit include Merck, Amgen, Gilead Sciences and Eli Lilly and Co.

Redwire Corporation, a Florida-based company that manufactures space infrastructure, announced last summer that it had partnered with Eli Lilly to test in-space manufacturing technology in a platform called Pharmaceutical In-space Laboratory – Bio-crystal Optimization Xperiment (PIL-BOX). Redwire’s PIL-BOX platform offers services for growing small-batch crystals of protein-based pharmaceuticals and other relevant molecules for research and production in microgravity.

Outer space pharma R&D has also included COVID-19 drugs. In late 2020 and early 2022, space chemistry research company InnoStudio went up to the ISS to investigate ways to improve the stability and efficiency and reduce the risk profile of Gilead Sciences’ antiviral remdesivir by studying it under microgravity.