Eli Lilly, Redwire head to space to explore next frontier of drug development

After Bristol Myers Squibb’s space odyssey earlier this year, another pharmaceutical major is pushing drug development to the fringes of Earth’s gravitational pull.

Eli Lilly is entering the orbit of Redwire Corporation to test the space infrastructure outfit’s in-space drug manufacturing platform, PIL-BOX, Redwire said in a Monday press release.

As part of the flagship mission for the platform, dubbed PIL-BOX-01, Eli Lilly will chip in on three experiments focused on developing medicines for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and pain, Redwire said.

PIL-BOX equips drugmakers with flexible services to grow small-batch crystals of protein-based pharmaceuticals and other molecules for research in space, according to Jacksonville, Florida-based Redwire.

The tech will be sent to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of SpaceX’s 29th cargo resupply mission for NASA, which is set to launch sometime after Nov. 5.

Previous spaceflight investigations have suggested that growing crystals in space could create a more uniform product with fewer imperfections, Redwire said.

The company's PIL-BOX technology is being developed in tandem with NASA through the agency's In Space Production Applications flight demonstrations program.

Aerospace manufacturer Redwire produces space-mission-critical products such as power generators, antennas, star trackers and camera systems, according to its website. Further, the company is advancing tech that will be essential for people to live and work in space such as in-space manufacturing, biotech facilities and farming.

Post-launch, Lilly will join an expanding constellation of pharmaceutical players among the stars.

Notably, a BMS experiment launched as part of SpaceX's 27th commercial resupply mission to the ISS back in March.

Building on a prior BMS-ISS project from 2020, that operation concerned studies on the crystallization of select BMS biotherapeutics in microgravity. The goal of the project, which was slated to last for several months on the ISS, was to help BMS find ways to improve biomanufacturing, illuminate the structure of complex molecules and ease delivery of higher doses of therapeutic proteins.

And, in April, Rhodium Scientific announced it had lifted off alongside BMS on SpaceX’s resupply mission to ISS. In partnership with the University of Florida, Rhodium shipped microbes up to the station to test the concept of biomanufacturing in space.