British American Tobacco’s (BAT) US biotech subsidiary, Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), is developing a potential coronavirus vaccine, the company announced in a Wednesday statement. The company added that the potential vaccine is now in pre-clinical testing.
“If testing goes well, BAT is hopeful that, with the right partners and support from government agencies, between 1 and 3 million doses of the vaccine could be manufactured per week, beginning in June,” the statement said. It added that the coronavirus 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,” the statement read. It cites several advantages over conventional vaccine production technology, including that it is potentially safer given that tobacco plants cannot host pathogens which cause human disease.
Tobacco plants would also allow the vaccine’s elements to accumulate much more quickly, notably over 6 weeks in tobacco plants versus several months using conventional methods.
“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,” said Dr David O’Reilly, Director of Scientific Research, BAT.
KBP recently cloned a portion of the coronavirus’ 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.
Through collaborations with government and third-party manufacturers, BAT believes that between 1 and 3 million doses per week could be manufactured.
“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 to try to expedite the development of a vaccine for COVID-19,” O’Reilly added.