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Drug development in space could soon be a very real thing, thanks to a competition currently running in North America. First announced in November, the American government agency behind the promotion of life science firms is giving biotechs in the country the opportunity to take their experiments into space.

The ‘Galactic Grant Competition’ was announced by Governor Deval Patrick at the Boston Museum of Science and will give biotechs in the Massachusetts area the chance to have their drugs developed on the International Space Station. Firms interested in applying for the competition have until April 3rd to submit their applications, with the winners announced on 7th July.

The grant will allow for life science experiments – including drug discovery, development, delivery and diagnostics – to be conducted in the US lab of the International Space Station. Due to the unique nature of gravity on board the Space Station – which is extremely light compared to that on Earth – organisms behave differently to how they would in a lab, including at the genetic level and the formation of tissue. Studies carried out on astronauts returning from space have revealed a variety of spaceflight-induced health conditions. While leading scientists to believe that organisms will behave differently onboard the space station, the studies also serve as models for earth-based conditions, such as aging and trauma.

The grant is supported by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, a Florida-based non-profit that promotes and manages the use of the International Space Station for experiments that could help to develop innovative and new technologies. Up to $500,000 will be available to help pay for any projects that life science companies wish to conduct onboard the International Space Station. Another $50,000 will be invested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education initiatives, intended to “connect Massachusetts students to the International Space Station”.

Governor Patrick commented during the announcement of the grant: “Massachusetts is the global leader in life sciences, so it is only fitting that we are the first State to promote life science experiments on the International Space Station. We are taking our spirit of collaboration to space in order to advance science, technology, education and economic development of Massachusetts and its residents.”

The grant dates back to 2005, when Congress designated the US portion of the International Space Station as the nation’s newest national laboratory, to maximise the use of the lab as a means of improving life on Earth, promoting collaboration among diverse users and advancing STEM education. The unique, low gravity, lab is also available for use by other US government agencies, and by academic and private institutions, providing “access to the permanent microgravity setting, vantage point in low Earth orbit and varied environments of space”.

Offering a different environment to carry out potentially life-changing experiments, the future of drug development looks set to soon be out of this world.

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