British American Tobacco is in the pre-clinical testing of developing a potential vaccine for Covid-19.
If the testing, which is being done by BAT's US biotech subsidiary Kentucky Bio Processing (KBP), goes well, BAT hopes to manufacture between one and three million doses of the vaccine per week, beginning in June, with the right partners and support from government agencies, said a press release.
While KBP remains a commercial operation, its work around the Covid-19 vaccine project will be carried out on a not-for-profit basis.
The vaccine being developed uses BAT's proprietary, fast-growing tobacco plant technology which has several advantages over conventional vaccine production technology.
It is potentially safer given that tobacco plants cannot host pathogens which cause human diseases. It is faster because the elements of the vaccine accumulate in tobacco plants much more quickly – in 6 weeks – whereas it takes 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.
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.
BAT is now exploring partnerships with government agencies to bring its vaccine to clinical studies as soon as possible. Through collaboration with government and third-party manufacturers, BAT believes that between 1 and 3 million doses per week could be manufactured.
Dr David O'Reilly, director of scientific research at BAT, said, "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. And, we are committed to contributing to the global effort to halt the spread of Covid-19 using this technology."
BAT's US subsidiary, Reynolds American Inc, acquired KBP in 2014, intending to use 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.