Evaluating the Cost of Pharmaceutical Purification for a Long-Duration Space Exploration Medical Foundry

Front Microbiol. 2021 Oct 11:12:700863. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2021.700863. eCollection 2021.


There are medical treatment vulnerabilities in longer-duration space missions present in the current International Space Station crew health care system with risks, arising from spaceflight-accelerated pharmaceutical degradation and resupply lag times. Bioregenerative life support systems may be a way to close this risk gap by leveraging in situ resource utilization (ISRU) to perform pharmaceutical synthesis and purification. Recent literature has begun to consider biological ISRU using microbes and plants as the basis for pharmaceutical life support technologies. However, there has not yet been a rigorous analysis of the processing and quality systems required to implement biologically produced pharmaceuticals for human medical treatment. In this work, we use the equivalent system mass (ESM) metric to evaluate pharmaceutical purification processing strategies for longer-duration space exploration missions. Monoclonal antibodies, representing a diverse therapeutic platform capable of treating multiple space-relevant disease states, were selected as the target products for this analysis. We investigate the ESM resource costs (mass, volume, power, cooling, and crew time) of an affinity-based capture step for monoclonal antibody purification as a test case within a manned Mars mission architecture. We compare six technologies (three biotic capture methods and three abiotic capture methods), optimize scheduling to minimize ESM for each technology, and perform scenario analysis to consider a range of input stream compositions and pharmaceutical demand. We also compare the base case ESM to scenarios of alternative mission configuration, equipment models, and technology reusability. Throughout the analyses, we identify key areas for development of pharmaceutical life support technology and improvement of the ESM framework for assessment of bioregenerative life support technologies.

Keywords: equivalent system mass; human exploration mission; in situ resource utilization; monoclonal antibody purification; pharmaceutical foundry; space exploration medical foundry; space systems bioengineering; techno-economic analysis.