In time of crisis such as the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, leading brands around the world are expected to play critical role in supporting the international community and introducing innovative solutions to the emergency situation.
The leading tobacco and nicotine producer British American Tobacco (BAT) has committed its laboratory technology and scientific research capabilities to developing a potential vaccine for Covid-19.
Liban Ahmed, General Manager of Med Red Cluster at BAT, told Daily News Egypt that his company would start clinical trials of the potential vaccine in June. They are hopeful to manufacture about 1-3m doses of the potential vaccine per week, beginning in June.
Would you please explain the preclinical trials that BAT is currently conducting? How long it should take? What should be expected results to approve the clinical trials or cancel the research?
Through its US bio-tech subsidiary, Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), BAT is currently working on developing a potential vaccine for Covid-19 using new, fast-growing tobacco plant technology. Tobacco plants offer the potential for faster and safer vaccine development compared to conventional methods– 6 weeks in tobacco plants versus several months using conventional methods. The vaccine formulation KBP is developing remains stable at room temperature, unlike conventional vaccines which often require refrigeration and it has the potential to deliver an effective immune response in a single dose.
The potential vaccine is now undergoing pre-clinical testing. We will be ready to start clinical trials in June and will start manufacturing in parallel. It is impossible to say when it will be available, and this will become clearer when we know what testing governments will require.
If testing goes well, BAT is hopeful that, with the right partners and support from government agencies, about 1-3m doses of the vaccine could be manufactured per week, beginning in June.
When would we expect to have the first approved covid-19 vaccine?
Currently, this is a potential vaccine, not a vaccine or a cure, being in early stages of the development process. 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.
For how long would the potential vaccine be effective?
Tobacco plants offer the potential for faster and safer vaccine development compared to conventional methods. It is potentially safer given that tobacco plants can’t host pathogens which cause human disease and it also has the potential to deliver an effective immune response in a single dose.
There are different preclinical and clinical trials on vaccines, are you willing to cooperate with different labs to develop the potential vaccine?
We are willing to work with any third party to get a vaccine developed quickly, even if another pharmaceutical company developed a different Covid-19 vaccine to ours, we’d be happy for them just to use out tobacco plant technology to get it developed quicker than conventional methods. This is non-competitive and BAT is open to collaborate with other vaccine producers and share technology.
How do you appraise the clinical research on the various drugs? How far the approval of the drugs would help in speeding the recovery rates and reducing mortality?
We have initiated the in-life portion of two separate studies to measure antibody titre response in mice. We are also prepared to initiate challenge studies as soon as we are able, to identify a site capable of conducting such work. While the TAP Platform has not yet been tested in humans, we have completed two TMV bio distribution studies and two tox studies.
BAT is looking for help from governments to accelerate clinical trials to demonstrate the candidate vaccine is safe and effective. 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. But it’s still early days.
Will you be seeking to make profit from the candidate vaccine?
No, this is not a commercial opportunity for BAT and will be carried out on a not-for-profit basis. This is about trying to solve one of the biggest crises society has faced in decades.