CASIS Working ISS Research Proposal with Merck & Co.

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WASHINGTON — The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) is working a deal with pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. to fly a biomedical experiment to the international space station (ISS) sometime in 2013.

The experiment will focus on techniques that could aid in the manufacturing of biomedical treatments for human immunological diseases, CASIS said in a Sept. 10 press release.

CASIS and Merck are hashing out the final details of Merck’s research proposal, which must then pass muster before a CASIS-led review board, according to Patrick O’Neill, a spokesman for the Florida-based nonprofit that NASA chose last year to manage non-NASA research aboard the ISS.

“As soon as CASIS receives the final proposal from Merck, the valuation and prioritization process will begin,” O’Neill wrote in a Sept. 11 email. “Depending upon the complexity of the proposal, the choice of hardware and the integration partner, a review could include as many as 10 reviewers and take upwards of 45 days.”

Ian McConnel, a spokesman for Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck, did not reply to a request for comment on Sept. 12.

O’Neill said the timing of the Merck experiment’s flight to ISS would depend upon the length of the review process. He would not identify potential launch providers, or say when in 2013 Merck’s payload might fly.

The only U.S. vehicle currently flying to the space station is Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Dragon cargo capsule, which launches atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. Orbital Sciences Corp. expects to be ready to begin space station cargo runs by 2013 with its yet-to-fly Antares rocket and Cygnus space freighter. The system’s first demonstration flight is scheduled for December.