Apr 12, 2023 - News

Boston biotech braces for space

Anne Yau, a post-doc worker at the UConn lab, is "practice" prepping samples for Eascra's mission flight kit.  Astronauts will use the kit to develop the nanomaterials when they go to space.

Anne Yau, a post-doc worker at the UConn lab, is "practice" prepping samples for Eascra's mission flight kit. Astronauts will use the kit to develop nanomaterials when they go to space. Photo courtesy of Eascra

An early-stage Boston biotech company is preparing for a lab experiment that will happen thousands of miles away in space.

Why it matters: A small but nimble team at Eascra Biotech has a front row seat to a relatively new frontier of space research: testing whether atypical environments like no-gravity orbit could become new arenas for the tech sector’s latest innovations.

What’s happening: Eascra, working with the University of Connecticut, is among more than a dozen companies from around the world sending a lab experiment to the International Space Station.

  • Astronauts working on Eascra's behalf will develop the biotech company's Janus base nanomaterials (JBNs) to see if the process changes beyond Earth's gravitational pull.
  • The ship, led by Houston-based space infrastructure developer Axiom Space, takes off May 9.

At the center of Eascra’s experiment are Janus base nanomaterials (JBNs), synthetic particles that mimic DNA and act as vessels for vaccines or other life-saving treatments. Eascra aims to use them to improve treatment for osteoarthritis and other conditions resulting in cartilage damage.

  • NASA gave Eascra’s team, led by co-founder Yupeng Chen, $1.8 million to test if their JBNs could be developed more consistently in space, Mari Anne Snow, Eascra’s CEO and co-founder, told Axios last year.
  • Eascra hopes the space missions could accelerate the product’s entry into the market.

The big picture: The mission comes at a time when life sciences funding has shrunk and the industry is reeling from Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse.

The latest: Axiom’s crew is training this week in Houston. At the same time, Eascra’s lab at UConn is simulating the steps that the astronauts will take to develop the JBNs, Snow says.

  • The training will help the team guide the astronauts later and helps them compare the differences between gravity and no-gravity execution, Snow says.

How it works: A small crew of astronauts on the ISS will test the JBNs during the two-week mission while wearing an over-the-shoulder camera so Eascra can observe the process. Eascra’s team will also be on call to help answer questions.

  • Eascra is expected to get the JBNs back around late May or early June and will analyze the results.
  • The findings will help Eascra prepare its products for the next three missions it will join in 2023.

Yes, but: The use of nanomaterials to help treat diseases is still fairly new, and the industry is still trying to determine where it could be used in health care.

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