Amgen and UCB are collaborating with NASA to conduct a preclinical test of a sclerostin antibody that will take place aboard the final space shuttle mission.

When the space shuttle Atlantis blasts off on July 8, some 30 mice are set to join the astronauts on the flight to carry out a bone density study. The companies note that the loss of bone mass during space flight is considerable, but they are looking at the problem not only for astronauts but for those of us who never leave the Earth’s atmosphere.

In this experiment, half of the mice are given the sclerostin antibody while the other 15 receive a placebo. After the shuttle's return, "various aspects of the structure, composition, strength and cell and molecular nature of the bones from the flight and ground-based control mice will be analysed", the firms say.

__UCB and Amgen note that sclerostin is a protein that is a key negative regulator of bone formation, mass and strength. They hope the findings may also provide insight into 'skeletal disuse' suffered through immobilisation, stroke, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injury and reduced physical activity.__

Chris Paszty, scientific executive director at Amgen, said this proof of principle study "will enhance our understanding of the science behind the sclerostin antibody and arm us with important research to support potential future therapeutic applications in both astronauts and patients suffering from bone loss".__

Speaking about "this momentous experiment", UCB research chief Iris Loew-Friedrich noted that the origin of the Belgian drugmaker's sclerostin programme was the discovery of the genetic cause of a rare inherited high bone mass condition. "This fascinating approach of turning genetic discovery into novel and innovative drug development seems fitting to the collaboration with NASA whose mission is exploration and discovery,” she added.

__UCB noted that AMG 785/CDP7851, a different sclerostin antibody than the one being used in the space shuttle study, is currently in Phase II trials for bone-related conditions, including postmenopausal osteoporosis and fracture healing, in collaboration with Amgen.