08 December 2020 Industry News

First ever COVID-19 drug research in space through ICE Cubes

ICE Cubes Facility onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Image: ICE Cubes / ESA
ICE Cubes Facility onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Image: ICE Cubes / ESA

The SpaceX cargo mission launched on 06-Dec is carrying "first of its kind" research related to COVID-19 into space. This first ever space project related to COVID-19 drug discovery research is hosted through the ICE Cubes service on-board the International Space Station (ISS).

The end-to-end ICE Cubes service is developed and operated by Space Applications Services NV/SA (Belgium) to simplify access to space for research and technology, through a partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA). Since its start, the service has been used by customers from around the world.

During this mission, Hungarian companies InnoStudio Inc. and CycloLab Cyclodextrin R&D Laboratory Ltd. will incubate the remdesivir-based medicament Veklury® for treatment of COVID-19, using the protein crystallisation service "Kirara" provided by the Japan Manned Space Systems Corporation (JAMSS).

The study targets to combine advantages of the microgravity environment with advanced drug research to improve understanding of the complex formulation processes. As such it is also a key initiative for the pharmaceutical industry to widen their development opportunities via space research.

Commercial services such as ICE Cubes provide for fast access, allowing for drug development R&D in and through space. Science in low Earth orbit is not only hugely important in preparation for space, the research also benefits life on Earth.

Fast access to space through commercial service as ICE Cubes allows for short-term turn-around on type of medicaments or samples to be investigated. Research in space hence becomes relevant even in a situation such as a pandemic.

The experiment represents collaboration at its finest: The Hungarian customers, InnoStudio and CycloLab, are using the Protein Crystal Growth Service Kirara, operated by the JAMSS, to run an experiment in the ICE Cubes Facility, managed by Space Applications Services, in ESA’s Columbus laboratory.

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