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  • Writer's pictureBraxton Hoare

Manufacturing Drugs In Space

On June 12, Varda Space Industries, a California startup, successfully launched the world’s first space factory. Riding aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, Varda’s manufacturing hub embarked on its cosmic journey alongside a cluster of 72 small satellites, aiming to harness the unique advantages of manufacturing in the weightless environment of outer space.

This comes after pharma company Merck succeeded in stabilizing its cancer drug Keytruda in an experiment on the International Space Station. The absence of gravity allowed Merck to observe how the drug crystallized differently in microgravity, leading to insights that helped improve its manufacturing process on Earth. As a result, Keytruda can now be administered via a shot rather than an IV infusion.

Microgravity research has the potential to yield countless discoveries and even pave the way for new drug development. However, the limited time available for commercial experiments aboard the International Space Station (ISS) poses a challenge. Current options for experiencing microgravity outside of orbit, such as parabolic airplane flights and drop towers, are only suitable for shorter experiments of less than two minutes. This is a huge obstacle considering Merck’s experiment took 18-days.

This is where Varda gets its enthusiasm for the prospects of microgravity manufacturing. Their space factory comprising a commercial satellite platform connected to two specialized Varda-made modules houses an autonomous manufacturing unit, as well as a reentry capsule to safely transport finished goods back to Earth. This will make experiments like the ones Merck did on Keytruda much easier and cheaper to undergo.

Building upon Merck’s achievements in stabilizing Keytruda through ISS experiments, Varda’s venture opens doors to a future where manufacturing in outer space holds immense potential. While the time constraints of the ISS limit commercial experiments, Varda’s innovative approach offers a solution. Their space factory, equipped with cutting-edge modules for autonomous manufacturing and safe reentry of goods, paves the way for more accessible and cost-effective microgravity experiments. With Varda’s pioneering spirit, we can look forward to a future where microgravity research accelerates the discovery of new drugs and unlocks groundbreaking possibilities for innovation.

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