Ayana Pharma’s Doxil, a drug meant to treat cancer cells, was launched to the International Space Station last week, as part of SpaceX’s mission. The drug's launch was feasible thanks to Israeli start-up SpacePharma’s smart laboratory.

Last week, a pioneering experiment was launched- no pun intended. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launcher carried a highly sophisticated laboratory developed by SpacePharma. Their space lab is a miniaturized version of the technology used for regular testing, but it weighs only four kilograms. It allows for remote-controlled, real-time testing to be done in space. The purpose of the experiment was to test if Doxil, a nanotechnology drug developed by Ayana Pharma used to treat cancer, would change in zero-gravity conditions; they wanted to see if the drug itself or its actions against cancer cells would alter in celestial space.

SpacePharma's micro lab. Credit to ESA/SpaceApp

Doxil is a complex-structured liposome drug that has been developed to treat ovarian cancer, multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer) and other contraindications. The complex and unique structure of the drug makes it possible to test whether conditions of non-gravity, as they exist in space, affect the physical properties of the drug and its activity against cancer cells. Since the physical and chemical properties of the drug and the cancer cell may vary under gravitational conditions, the researchers will seek to examine whether there are change in the nanoparticle uptake into cancer cells, the active substance against cancer cells and its rate of release, and the unique envelope properties of the drug. The idea behind this experiment is, of course, to understand the aspects of the drug better, as it may indicate a future possibility for improving the effectiveness of cancer treatment in conditions of non-gravity.

"We are highly pleased to partner up with the Israel Space Agency and SpacePharma to study the effects space has on drugs. Witnessing Ayana Pharma's drug being chosen for space travel onboard a SpaceX launcher is such a momentous occasion...The unique nanotechnological structure and characteristics of Ayana Pharma's drug have aroused much interest in the field of space exploration, and we look forward to great things to come." -Prof. Yechezkel Barenholz (PhD), Founder & CEO of Ayana Pharma

The Doxil drug development was led by Prof. Yehezkel Bernholtz of the Hebrew University, who founded Ayana Pharma in 2012. He is recognized as a global expert in the development of nanotechnology drugs, as Doxil was the world's first nanotechnology drug approved by the FDA. His pharmaceutical company focuses on the development and production of liposomal drugs for the treatment of cancer and other diseases. The company's main investors include the Education Fund for Teachers and Kindergarten Teachers in Israel, the Integra Holdings Fund, the Ilan Holdings Fund and Dr. Shmuel Kabili.