The SpaceX launch on 6 December carried the ‘first-of-its-kind’ space research mission related to COVID-19, hosted via the ICE Cubes service onboard the International Space Station (ISS).

The end-to-end ICE Cubes service, developed and operated by Space Applications Services, aims to simplify access to space for research and technology, through a partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA). During this mission, InnoStudio and CycloLab Cyclodextrin R&D Laboratory 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 seeks to combine the advantages of a microgravity environment with advanced drug research to improve understanding of complex formulation processes. 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 allows for short-term turn-around on types of medication 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: Hungarian customers, InnoStudio and CycloLab, are using the KIRARA facility, operated by the JAMSS, to run an experiment in the ICE Cubes facility, managed by Space Applications Services, in ESA’s COLUMBUS laboratory.

The ICE Cubes facility onboard the International Space Station. (Photo courtesy ICE Cubes/ESA)

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