Lilly scientists go above and beyond to answer complex scientific questions that are critical for developing medicines to make life better for people – 230 miles above and beyond Earth, to be exact.
Following the launch of the first set of experiments in April, Lilly will once again partner with NASA to send experiments to the International Space Station. Led by Lilly principal investigator Richard Cope, Ph.D., and co-investigator Alison Campbell, Ph.D., the Hard to Wet Surfaces experiment will investigate microgravity’s effect on how components in some medicines dissolve in liquid. Results from these experiments could help improve tablet design in order to improve dissolvability and drug delivery, as well as overall drug design.
“When a solid – or in this case, a pill – doesn’t sink or dissolve properly in liquid, and instead floats on a wet surface such as liquid in the stomach, it could impact the amount of time it takes for the pill to dissolve,” says Cope. “In space, overcoming flotation due to gravity would not be an issue.”
Two factors that play a role in how quickly a solid dissolves is “wettability” (how well a liquid spreads over the surface of a solid) and “float effect” (less dense solids float on the surface of a liquid).
“Understanding microgravity’s effect on wettability and float effect will help us build a base of knowledge so we can develop better products,” says Campbell. “Conducting experiments in space is a cool opportunity to study these factors, and has really given me a new appreciation for gravity.”
Lilly scientists hypothesize that tablets that float on Earth will dissolve more quickly in space because there is no gravity-based float effect. How microgravity affects wettability is still unknown, but understanding microgravity’s effect on this factor is important to understanding dissolution.
Cope and Campbell expect results from the experiment to have several implications for drug discovery, from improving bioavailability for people on Earth to better understanding how medicines react for those in space.
“Lilly has given us a platform to think outside of the box when it comes to innovation,” says Cope. “Our hope is that this fundamental work will take us one step closer to developing better medicines for patients.”