British American Tobacco’s (BAT) U.S. bio-tech subsidiary, Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), is developing a potential vaccine for Covid-19 and is now in pre-clinical testing.
BAT hopes that if testing goes well, between 1 million and 3 million doses of the vaccine could be manufactured per week beginning in June. The work is intended to be carried out on a not-for-profit basis.
The potential vaccine uses BAT’s proprietary, fast-growing tobacco plant technology, which is potentially safer than conventional vaccine production technology because tobacco plants can’t host pathogens that cause human disease. This technology is also faster because the elements of the vaccine accumulate in tobacco plants more quickly (six weeks in tobacco plants versus several months using conventional methods). The vaccine formulation also remains stable at room temperature unlike many conventional vaccines that require refrigeration. A single dose has the potential to deliver an effective immune response.
In 2014, KBP was one of the few companies that created an effective treatment for Ebola, ZMapp, in conjunction with Mapp BioPharmaceuticals and the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
KBP was recently in headlines for cloning a portion of Covid-19’s genetic sequence, leading to the development of a potential antigen. The antigen was then inserted into tobacco plants for reproduction, purified once plants were harvested, and is now undergoing pre-clinical testing.
BAT is exploring partnerships with government agencies to bring the vaccine to clinical studies as soon as possible. “We are engaged with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and are seeking guidance on next steps,” said David O’Reilly, director of scientific research at BAT. “We have also engaged with the U.K.’s Department for Health and Social Care and BARDA in the U.S. to offer our support and access to our research with the aim of trying to expedite the development of a vaccine for Covid-19.
“Vaccine development is challenging and complex work, but we believe we have made a significant breakthrough with our tobacco plant technology platform and stand ready to work with governments and all stakeholders to help win the war against Covid-19. We fully align with the United Nations’ plea for a whole-of-society approach to combat global problems,” he said.