Conditions in space apparently do not have a major impact on medications. A recent study from the Baylor College of Medicine demonstrates that most types of medications do not degrade faster in space compared to the degradation typically seen on Earth.
All medications eventually degrade when exposed to oxygen, humidity and light. Although the temperature and humidity in the International Space Station are within appropriate ranges for storage of drugs, the impact of other factors in space such as microgravity and increased radiation had not been sufficiently studied until now.
Test medications spent more than 18 months stored on ISS
This new opportunistic study was undertaken by Virginia Wotring from Baylor College of Medicine. As a part of the study, medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration were collected and repackaged by Johnson Space Center Pharmacy to meet space mission requirements. Nine different types of medication were assessed in the new study: an antihistamine, two types of sleeping pills, a decongestant, an antidiarrheal, three painkillers and a drug for alertness.
The medications were eventually taken to the ISS on Russia’s Progress spacecraft. After 550 days in space aboard the ISS, the medications were shuttled back to Earth using the Dragon capsule from Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
The space drugs were sent to California by boat before being transported to JSC labs in Houston, Texas for comprehensive testing. The total travel time from capsule splashdown to the JSC Lab was around 58 hours.
As a part of the study, the space medication samples were analyzed using the procedures outlined in the 2012 U.S. Pharmacopeia to identify levels of active pharmaceutical ingredient and detect and measure various degradation products.
Baylor study shows medications not degraded by radiation or microgravity in space
The results of the Baylor study of drugs in space showed that one medication still met all USP requirements five months after its expiration date had passed. Moreover, four of the nine drugs were still usable eight months after they had officially expired. Three of the medications fulfilled USP guidelines when tested three months prior their expiration date. A sleeping aid, however, did not meet USP requirements eleven months after it had expired.
Of note, no degradation products outside of what is normally found were identified in any of the tests.
Keep in mind that the opportunistic nature of the study means that the results are based on measurements made at a single point in time, and only for a limited number of medications. Wotring emphasizes that the results of her study cannot be directly applied to assess the safety and effectiveness of other medicines in space over time, or extrapolated to longer storage times.
She also emphasizes that additional research is required before planning long-term space flights, because these longer-term missions will not be able to restock medicines with supply flights like is done today with the ISS.
Wotring says the next step is to undertake rigorous stability studies with ground controls and across multiple time points, as well as including new medications, studying longer periods of time, and confirming whether the new data support the initial findings demonstrated in the current study.