Diamonds in the sky

Back to space: Micro-gravity crystallization experiments to continue

February 28, 2022     

Every day, Bristol Myers Squibb scientists come across images that reveal the wonder of science and the cutting-edge work of company research teams. 

The diamond-shaped crystals in this image were grown from one of the company’s biologics medicines on the International Space Station as part of a company-sponsored experiment to see how biologics medicines crystalize in the micro-gravity of Earth’s orbit. The innovative study occurred between December 2020 and January 2021 and is set to continue. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), which manages scientific studies on the orbiting lab, recently approved Bristol Myers Squibb’s proposal to send a new and expanded set of crystallization experiments to the space station next year. 

The study of crystallization in micro-gravity is part of a broader effort at the company to research ways to stabilize biologics medicines in a solid state – research that could inform future directions in drug development and manufacturing and yield important benefits to patients. 

Biologics are protein-based medicines derived from living cells. Their final form is typically a solution that patients receive by intravenous infusion. But what if these medicines could be made in crystal form? A crystallized therapeutic could in theory have greater stability and a more concentrated dosing strength. For patients, that could be the difference between needing a quick injection or needing to travel for longer periodic infusions. For drug makers like Bristol Myers Squibb, the science of protein crystallization could revolutionize how biologics drugs are developed and manufactured, changing everything from the time and expense it takes to bring products to market to the amount of space needed to store them on shelves. 

This research is being led by the Materials Science & Engineering team within Drug Product Development, part of the company’s Global Product Development and Supply (GPS) organization.

“The prospect of manufacturing biotherapeutic products as crystals could reduce storage and production costs, as well as improve drug delivery methods, such as allowing for subcutaneous, at-home administration, that would improve patient access to treatment,” said Associate Director Robert Garmise, whose team is leading the research.

The first set of experiments conducted on the space station found that the crystals grown in micro-gravity were very similar to those grown on Earth, with some slight differences. The crystals from the biologics medicine pictured here displayed a somewhat more uniform size and shape, which was one of the goals of the study, Garmise noted.  

The new experiments will build on these findings by studying a larger number of antibodies and will also seek to produce a larger quantity of crystals in space to gain insights into how crystal production could theoretically be scaled up on Earth.   

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Bristol Myers Squibb is a global biopharmaceutical company whose mission is to discover, develop and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases. As global citizens, we work sustainably and responsibly to create a positive impact in the communities where we live and work.