Techshot Plans Commercialization of Crystal Production on ISS

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Techshot has a plan to commercialize the production of pharmaceutical crystals aboard the International Space Station (ISS) by developing improved production modules with funding from NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

“Techshot proposes a business plan in which cost and time saving versatile flight hardware and flexible flight opportunities are made openly available to corporate and institutional users seeking improvements or refinements in product purification, formulation and/or delivery,” according to the project description.

Recombinant protein crystals cannot be created uniformly on Earth. Uniform crystals have been produced on the space station, but the equipment used to create them is inadequate.

Techshot’s plans to address the problem with the help of funding from NASA. The Phase I award is worth up to $125,000 over six months.

Techshot will adapt and test up to four hardware modules under laboratory conditions. The company will also perform mathematical modeling to approximate conditions on the space station.

The company plans to apply for a NASA SBIR Phase II grant worth up to $750,000 over 24 months to continue the work.

“In Phase II research Techshot will prepare the hardware modules for flight readiness, prepare an aggressive ISS use plan, and construct and operate an optimizable ground-based reactor. The intended outcome is a business paradigm for hastening the availability of stable biopharmaceuticals with favorable options for delivery,” the proposal said.

The ultimate goal is to install hardware on the space station that can be used to produce uniform crystals.

“Hardware and flight plans on ISS will be offered in which factorial and/or real-time photography experiments can be performed on the basis of Techshot’s regular ISS access and versatile hardware fleet,” the company said.

The proposal summary is below.

Biopharmaceutical Uniform Crystallization Test Bed
Subtopic Title: Utilization of the International Space Station (ISS) to Foster Commercial Development of Low-Earth Orbit (LEO)

Techshot, Inc.
Greenville, IN

Principal Investigator 
Rachel Ormsby

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 3
End: 6

Technical Abstract

Pharmaceuticals in general, and biopharmaceuticals specifically, are often best formulated as microscopic crystals. The crystalline state is most stable, allows a high-concentration, low-viscosity parenteral formulation, and facilitates alternate routes of administration. There is a requirement that the crystals be small, a few micrometers or less, and uniform, the same size within a few per cent. The problem: most recombinant protein biopharmaceuticals do not crystallize uniformly.

A solution to this problem has been discovered in on-orbit crystallization experiments, which produced very uniform sized crystals. Manufacturers are creating demand for on-orbit testing of uniform crystallization protocols, but suitable hardware and ISS research opportunities are inadequate.

Techshot proposes a business plan in which cost and time saving versatile flight hardware and flexible flight opportunities are made openly available to corporate and institutional users seeking improvements or refinements in product purification, formulation and/or delivery.

Hardware and flight plans on ISS will be offered in which factorial and/or real-time photography experiments can be performed on the basis of Techshot’s regular ISS access and versatile hardware fleet. 

In Phase I research Techshot will

(1) adapt up to four different existing hardware modules for this specific application,

(2) test these modules in model protein crystallization experiments in the laboratory, and

(3) perform mathematical modeling for a ground-based crystallization reactor with adjustable parameters for approximating the relevant low-gravity physics.  

In Phase II research Techshot will prepare the hardware modules for flight readiness, prepare an aggressive ISS use plan, and construct and operate an optimizable ground-based reactor. The intended outcome is a business paradigm for hastening the availability of stable biopharmaceuticals with favorable options for delivery.

Potential NASA Applications

NASA has solicited research topics in this area of pharmaceutical production on spacecraft making deep space voyages to solve problems of availability and stowage. Such projects include short-cut production of biopharmaceuticals by stored microbial cells but also need to include short-cut purification schemes.

A crystallization plan, Techshot’s proposed innovation, could eliminate several (chromatography, extraction, etc.) downstream steps toward such on-orbit formulation, although non-NASA commercialization is the project’s primary goal.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

Success in producing a crystalline product will save big due to longer ambient stability, lower delivery volume and novel routes of administration of their product, whether it is an approved pharmaceutical or an emerging therapeutic. Techshot intends to offer crystallization research capabilities on the ISS and in labs to companies seeking opportunities in the crystalline biopharmaceutical field.

Duration: 6 months