With his eyes set on “Space for Earth” and the future of biotechnology, Mark Kugel, Co-founder of Yuri, is pioneering a revolution in space research. As we discuss Yuri’s projects, Kugel’s passion for the cosmos is palpable – a fascination that dates back to his youth.
“Probably every eight-year-old was excited about space at some point and for me, I just stuck with it,” Kugel recalls.
His father’s work on a US farm where they watched a space shuttle launch may have also played a role in his interest.
Starting his career at Airbus to explore the lure of space exploration, Kugel soon found that there existed a stark gap between the vision projected by these corporations and the actual work he found himself doing. Frustrated with being stuck in the procurement department ordering various parts for satellites scheduled to launch a decade later, he yearned for a faster-paced and more purposeful involvement with space.
It was against this backdrop that Yuri was born. The space-biotech company describes itself as an end-to-end service provider, whose core aim is to facilitate biological experiments in space. The unique environments of space are used to enhance basic research, investigating aspects such as human survival on a journey to Mars, as well as the growth of terrestrial plants in space. But the company’s mission extends further than pure scientific curiosity.
“We also aim to understand whether there are any benefits to the microgravity and radiation environment that we can leverage for life science industries on Earth,” explains Kugel.
Yuri’s technology stack includes bio reactors and incubation systems to maintain live biology in space and back. The hardware is modular, allowing the company to cater to a wide range of biological experiments from growing plants to studying cancer cells, and even working on protein crystals.
As Kugel elaborates on Yuri’s shift in focus from an outward branding company to a life science biotech company, it is clear that the possibilities are exciting. Working with its very own in-house bio team, Yuri has ventured into product development utilizing the unique spatial environment.
“In space, you can grow very complex cell cultures, without the restriction of gravity. So you can grow much larger structures than you can do an Earth,” Yuri explains. “Today, we use organoids for drug testing, and maybe 10 years down the road, we can grow a whole heart in space and bring it down to Earth and implant it here. How cool would that be?”
The pharmaceutical sector is a key area for Yuri, primarily focusing on applications on Earth. Kugel explains that the company’s focus is on space for Earth rather than on supporting a handful of astronauts in space.
While microgravity and cosmic radiation pose unique challenges, Kugel firmly believes that space offers an unprecedented environment that can enhance our understanding of biological processes. It can reveal insights into the development of age-related diseases such as cancer and various neurodegenerative conditions. Furthermore, the unique conditions of space can help scientists better understand the structure of proteins, aiding the development of highly efficient drugs.
In closing, Kugel sheds light on the company’s ambitions:
“In five years, we hope to have a thriving orbital industrial ecosystem where we have weekly launches of biology products. From enzymes to organoids, we aspire to provide significant value to the life science industries in their crucial research.”
Dispelling common misconceptions about space and biotechnology, he emphasizes that the focus isn’t just on space exploration or basic research. Yuri’s mission is to solve real problems here on Earth with the help of space, embodying their philosophy of ‘Space for Earth.’ In the grand expanse of the cosmos, Mark Kugel and his team at Yuri continue their relentless pursuit of space’s untapped potential for the betterment of life on Earth.
Featured image: Yuri Co-founder and Co-CEO Mark Kugel. Credit: Yuri