Rhodium Scientific joins BMS on discrete biomanufacturing missions among the stars

As it turns out, Bristol Myers Squibb isn’t flying solo on its latest biomanufacturing sojourn to the International Space Station.

Joining the Big Pharma on SpaceX’s 27th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission is a project from Rhodium Scientific—a Hispanic-American, woman-owned company leveraging its platform, the Rhodium Science Chamber Facility, to scale fundamental discoveries and biomanufacturing in space.

In partnership with the University of Florida, Rhodium is shipping microbes up to the International Space Station to test the concept of biomanufacturing in space, the ISS National Laboratory said in a press release.

The project is now underway with the ISS crew members' help. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is supporting work, which falls under the umbrella of DARPA’s Biomanufacturing: Survival, Utility, and Reliability beyond Earth (B-SURE) program, which seeks to examine the effects of gravity on the production of therapeutics and nutrients from bacteria and yeast.

As for the rationale behind the project, microgravity is known to spur changes in microorganisms, including alterations in cellular growth, structure and metabolic activity, which can influence the biomanufacturing process. For this specific project, Rhodium has developed a spaceflight-certified centrifuge that simulates the gravity of Mars and the moon on the space station to test the microbes’ working viability in three discrete gravities.

Specifically, Rhodium has deployed microbes known to make polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB), a type of bio-derived and biodegradable plastic used for 3D printing stock, plus vitamin A (beta carotene). Once the microbes are activated on the ISS, they’ll be left to grow for a fixed period before the vials are frozen and shipped back to Earth for analysis.

Alongside the Rhodium experiment, ISS scientists are now tackling another biomanufacturing project from Bristol Myers Squibb.

Building on a prior BMS-ISS project from 2020, a select assortment of BMS' medicines launched into orbit where researchers will study the crystallization of biotherapeutics in microgravity. In space, some crystals grow larger and more well-ordered than on Earth, according to an ISS Lab press release.

The hope is that the experiment will help BMS determine ways to improve biomanufacturing, illuminate the structure of complex molecules and ease the delivery of higher doses of therapeutic proteins planetside.