Outer space and the effect of radiation on drugs

I very much enjoyed reading the informative feature ‘Drugs in space: the pharmacy orbiting the Earth‘ by Megan Tatum in the July 2020 issue of The Pharmaceutical Journal.

In view of my studies on the effects of gamma and other ionising radiations on pharmaceuticals essentially for sterilisation purposes, the mention of the stability of drugs that may possibly be exposed to such radiation in outer space was of particular interest​[1–4]​.

This issue is one that NASA, for example, has been considering for some time. An earlier paper on the subject by Kim and Plante could have also been mentioned​[1,5]​. Incidentally, the authors of both papers are NASA associated.

The effect of ‘extraneous’ radiation on pharmaceuticals has been of concern for many years. For example, I recall an industrial project that I undertook quite a few years ago to assess the effect of neutron irradiation on drugs. This was the time when commercial airlines were considering introducing scanning machines for plastic explosives. These machines utilise very low-dose neutron irradiation, and the US Food and Drug Administration wanted to be assured that doses used had no deleterious effects on medicaments (and food) carried by airline passengers.

Geoffrey P Jacobs, consultant to the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, Jerusalem, Israel

  1. 1
    An Assessment of How Radiation Incurred During a Mars Mission Could Affect Food . NASA.
  2. 2
    Jacobs GP. A Review of the Effects of Gamma Radiation on Pharmaceutical Materials. J Biomater Appl 1995;:59–96. doi:10.1177/088532829501000104
  3. 3
    Jacobs GP. A review: Radiation sterilization of pharmaceuticals. Radiation Physics and Chemistry (1977) 1985;:133–42. doi:10.1016/0146-5724(85)90177-3
  4. 4
    Encyclopaedia of Pharmaceutical Science and Technology. 4th ed. New York: : Taylor & Francis 2013.
  5. 5
    Validation of Pharmaceutical Processes. 4th ed. New York: : Informa Healthcare 2021.
Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, January 2021;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2021.1.43216