Is it possible to produce medicines in Space?

On 21 February, after seven months in space, Varda Space’s W-1 capsule returned to Earth with a special cargo – the HIV/AIDS medication ritonavir. “Our mission is to provide cost-effective access to next-generation therapeutics.”

The W-1 mission was designed to test the feasibility of creating therapeutic medication in space, testing Varda Space’s equipment off-Earth for the first time. While in orbit, the W-1 capsule successfully crystallized a metastable form III of the antiviral medication ritonavir, which was then preserved upon return to Earth. The space-derived ritonavir was then analyzed, and according to one of the co-founders “these space-derived drugs turned out to be quite good”.

Varda Space aims to autonomously produce pharmaceuticals in microgravity, which could ultimately reduce the cost of life-saving drugs, and according to a new paper published in the preprint, the company is one step closer to achieving that goal. Pharmaceuticals are processed in microgravity on parabolic flights and the International Space Station, but Varda Space’s method aims to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness by using crewless capsules that fulfill the dual function of mini-factory and reentry vehicle. 

Now the company hopes to inspire others to think about the feasibility of using pharmaceuticals in space. “Together with our hypergravity platform, Varda is rapidly expanding the possibilities for drug development using microgravity,” Varda Space wrote in a post.