How microgravity could transform pharma manufacturing

The California-based start-up claims that, by removing gravity, they are able to make medicines that are not viable on earth.

“Processing in a microgravity environment dramatically alters buoyancy, natural convection, sedimentation, phase separation and drives significant differences in transport-driven phenomena,” the company’s website reads.

Essentially, Varda argues that drug formulations, both small molecules and biologics, behave differently when put through their microgravity platform.

These effects are ‘locked’ into the material, typically through material crystallization, before being brought back to earth.

“Microgravity offers the ability to eliminate factors such as natural convection and sedimentation, processing in a microgravity environment provides a path to formulating small molecules and biologics that traditional manufacturing processes cannot address,” the company said.

“The resulting tunable particle size distributions, more ordered crystals and novel forms can lead to improved bioavailability, extended shelf-life, novel intellectual property and innovative routes of administration.”

Varda Space’s first spacecraft before its launch. © Varda

“Gravity is kind of like a parameter,” Will Bruey, CEO of Varda, told Marketplace.

“If you put a temperature knob on an oven, you create a whole world of new recipes and new food you can create. Similarly, if you can change gravity, you can also change the chemical process for drug formulations.”

The company’s first space manufacturing mission, a miniature lab in orbit which grew crystals of the HIV drug ritonavir, was hailed a success.  

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