Varda blasts off with $90m to advance space drug manufacturing program

Startup claims drug production in microgravity means biopharma companies can develop unique formulations not possible on Earth.

Space manufacturing startup Varda Space Industries has closed a $90 million Series B funding round, a significant part of which will be used to advance the company’s infrastructure for drug production in microgravity. The company has developed a “hypergravity crystallization platform” that has demonstrated the potential of gravity as a variable in the formulation and development of small molecule therapeutics.

There are already strong links between space and longevity drug development, and companies like Fauna Bio and Vaxxinity are already engaged in space-related research programs, while the wider industry is constantly seeking for new ways to develop therapeutics for maximum effect.

“Over the past 15 years, many of the largest biopharma companies in the world, through research on the ISS, have shown the huge potential of microgravity,” said Delian Asparouhov, president of Varda. “Varda is their first pathway to commercialize this work, and we’re pleased to see our investors recognize that potential.”

Varda claims that the effects of microgravity on drug manufacturing are profound, with processes conducted in this environment experiencing significant alterations in transport-driven phenomena, leading to enhanced bioavailability, improved physicochemical properties, and differentiated intellectual property. The company says its microgravity platform offers a unique pathway for formulating small molecules and biologics, optimizing shelf-life, and patient compliance.

Processing biopharma materials in the near-weightless conditions found in space offers a unique environment not available here on Earth, particularly when it comes to convection and sedimentation. When manufacturing in space, Varda says these effects are “locked” into the material through crystallization, before being brought back to Earth.

Furthermore, Varda says its hypergravity screening methodologies provide a cost-effective means to evaluate gravity’s impact on drug product performance. By rapidly assessing a broad range of potential candidates for space, the company claims it can identify promising microgravity candidates early in the development process.

“Access to microgravity means Varda can help partners develop unique pharmaceutical formulations not otherwise possible,” said Will Bruey, CEO of Varda. “Varda offers a path to revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry, potentially leading to reductions in healthcare costs and better patient outcomes. We have built our platform’s capabilities and rapid cadence to be specifically tailored for the pharmaceutical industry and we are excited to finally bring the value of microgravity to the masses.”

Headquartered in El Segundo, California, Varda is focused on expanding the economic opportunities presented by low-Earth orbit. The core of Varda’s mission lies in leveraging microgravity conditions to process pharmaceuticals and other materials, offering an environment inaccessible through conventional terrestrial methods. By harnessing near-weightless conditions in space, Varda aims to unlock novel manufacturing capabilities with its cost-effective orbit and re-entry system.

Varda’s first hypersonic capsule, the W-1, was successfully launched and touched down on US soil earlier this year. The forthcoming launch of its second vehicle is scheduled for this summer. With aspirations to launch capsules monthly, Varda envisions a future where space research, development, and manufacturing become accessible to terrestrial industries on a routine basis.

The funding round, led by Caffeinated Capital and backed by Lux Capital, General Catalyst, Founders Fund, and Khosla Ventures, brings the total raised by Varda to $145 million.

“In the world of deeply ambitious startups, you almost never see anyone say, ‘Here’s my plan, I’m going to go get it done,’ and it actually happens,” said Raymond Tonsing of Caffeinated Capital. “Varda is one of the few that gets it done, which is why we are thrilled to continue supporting them.”