Bruey, Asparouhov, Varda and the First Space Pharmaceutical Factory

JOSÉ A. VIDAL
Jose A. Vidal
Published in
4 min readJun 30, 2023

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Many of the professional conversations which I try to have at Corporate or Side Project level usually start with the same proposition: let’s talk nonsense and then we’ll check if it makes sense or not. This is what you and I might think if we were told that outer space could be a new factory for some of the new drugs we will have in the market. But for Delian and Will, it’s not nonsense, it’s a more than viable possibility.

Will Bruey (former engineer at SpaceX) and Delian Asparouhov (entrepreneur and investor in the field of technology, biotechnology and space exploration) founded Varda Space Industries in 2020 with a clear idea: to provide service to others through the space industry. And the first industry they have thought of was the pharmaceutical one. They start by asking themselves these questions:

Can an independent spacecraft from the International Space Stations (ISS) manufacture pharmaceutical products?

Can that small spacecraft return to the atmosphere?

Can that spacecraft survive the entire re-entry process?

With agreements to share information and resources with NASA, using the increasing number of cheaper launches thanks to SpaceX, we are witnessing the commercialization of space.

Microgravity is a perfect environment for the formulation of new substances for pharmaceutical products, which can improve clinical and commercial dosage formulas. This microgravity, also known as weightlessness or zero gravity, is a state of apparent absence of gravity experienced in space. Although gravity is still present, its effect is greatly reduced compared to Earth. Microgravity is achieved when an object is continuously free-falling around a celestial body, such as the Earth or in orbit around it. Microgravity has several effects on crystal and drug manufacturing. On Earth, gravity affects the formation of crystals and the distribution of components in liquid solutions. Crystals are structures made up of atoms or molecules, and gravity can affect their growth by causing them to settle and form irregular structures. In microgravity, crystals can grow more uniformly and with fewer defects. This is because in the absence of gravity, there are no sedimentation forces interfering with crystal growth. Higher-quality and larger crystals can be obtained in space, which is beneficial for various applications, such as pharmaceutical research. The formation of high-quality crystals is essential in the field of protein crystallography. Proteins are fundamental components in the development of drugs, as many diseases are related to the malfunctioning of proteins in the body. The three-dimensional structure of a protein is crucial for understanding its function and designing drugs that specifically target them.

Protein crystallization in microgravity can allow the production of larger and more ordered crystals, making their study and analysis possible. Additionally, higher-quality protein crystals can assist in determining their three-dimensional structure through techniques like X-ray diffraction, which in turn can contribute to the design of more effective drugs.

As for drug manufacturing, microgravity can offer significant advantages. Some drugs are manufactured using crystallization techniques, and microgravity can improve the quality of pharmaceutical crystals, potentially leading to purer and more efficient drugs. Furthermore, manufacturing in space could allow the production of personalized and specific medications for the needs of astronauts during extended space missions.

Companies like Axiom, Redwire, Improved Pharma and Merck are already involved in biomedical research in outer space.

Is it all Science Fiction? It’s simply a business model for implementation in the mid and long term.

Well, none of that is true. On June 12, 2023, at 2:19 PST, Varda Space Industries successfully launched a factory into space for the first time in human history.

Packy Mc Cormick, one of Varda’s main investors, shared this milestone on Twitter, explaining the technical reasons behind the initiative.

Since the end of the last century, we are definitely going through a period of investigation and technical development in the Science and Technology field. It gives the impression that this is only the beginning and we have the chance to live this in first person, having the possibility of aligning our professional careers with these fantastic scenarios. I am building a global list in Science & Technology on Twitter, you can follow it in this link.

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JOSÉ A. VIDAL
Jose A. Vidal

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