British American Tobacco developing potential COVID-19 vaccine

Using fast-growing tobacco plant technology, the tobacco company aims to develop a potential coronavirus vaccine on a not-for-profit basis

The company claims it has the potential to manufacture one to three million doses of vaccine per week
The company claims it has the potential to manufacture one to three million doses of vaccine per week

British American Tobacco are developing a potential COVID-19 vaccine candidate using fast-growing tobacco plant technology.

Pre-clinical testing is already underway, as the company claims it has the potential to manufacture one to three million doses of vaccine per week.

BAT’s US bio-tech subsidiary, Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), is developing the potential vaccine.

While KBP remains a commercial operation, the intention is that its work around the COVID-19 vaccine project will be carried out on a not-for-profit basis.

The vaccine in development uses BAT’s proprietary, fast-growing tobacco plant technology which, BAT said, is potentially safer given that tobacco plants cannot host pathogens which cause human disease, and is faster because the elements of the vaccine accumulate in tobacco plants quicker—six weeks against the several months using more conventional methods.

BAT’s US subsidiary, Reynolds American Inc, acquired KBP in 2014, with the aim of using some of its unique tobacco extraction technology to aid further development of its new category non-combustible products.

In 2014, KBP made headlines as one of the few companies with an effective treatment for Ebola, having manufactured ZMapp with California-based company Mapp BioPharmaceuticals in partnership with the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

KBP recently cloned a portion of COVID-19’s genetic sequence which led to the development of a potential antigen—a substance which induces an immune response in the body and in particular, the production of antibodies. This antigen was then inserted into tobacco plants for reproduction and, once the plants were harvested, the antigen was then purified, and is now undergoing pre-clinical testing.

David O’Reilly, Director of Scientific Research said: “We are engaged with the US Food and Drug Administration and are seeking guidance on next steps. We have also engaged with the UK’s Department for Health and Social Care, and BARDA in the US, 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 break-through 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.”

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