Drug Effectiveness Diminished in Space

Astronauts on long space missions may not be able to take antibiotics to treat infections or aspirin to treat headaches, simply because drugs have been found to decay much faster in space than on earth. A recent study in the AAPS Journal found, that the half-life of drugs is much lower in spacecrafts orbiting the planet.

This study was conducted by scientists at the Johnson Space Center investigated how the environment in space, such as higher radiation levels, lower gravity, micro gravity, vibrations, a carbon dioxide rich environment and variations in temperature and humidity could affect drug effectiveness.

Four boxes with drugs were flown to the International Space Station (ISS) and four identical boxes were kept at the research centre on Earth. The boxes were returned to earth at varying lengths of time, ranging from two weeks to over two years. The study concluded that a number of drugs stored in space had a much lower potency after storage in space, with most of them actually failing United States Pharmacopeia potency requirements.

“It is important to characterise space-specific degradation products and toxicity limits using ground-based analogue environments of space that include proton and heavy ion radiation, vibration and multiple gravity conditions“, the study claimed.

These studies have profound implications on the usage and packaging of drugs in space. The data also greatly help the understanding of the decay of drugs to improve their storage capacity on earth. This could potentially help save a lot of money each year, as drug deposits have to be cleared regularly due to drugs being out of date. If the understanding of drug storage can be improved, the costs to produce certain drugs can be reduced.

The studies also help to make space travel safer and will help reduce health risks to astronauts, once storage conditions have been optimised. It has to be noted that almost all our modern technology is dependent on space travel and on orbital satellites. The health and safety of our astronauts is thus imperative to the majority of us.

On the long run, the pharmaceutical industry and ultimately ourselves will benefit from these studies by making drugs safer and lengthening their expiry dates.

Du et al., Evaluation of Physical and Chemical Changes in Pharmaceuticals Flown on Space Missions, THE AAPS JOURNAL, 13, 299-308, DOI: 10.1208/s12248-011-9270-0

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