British American Tobacco (BAT)’s US biotech subsidiary Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP) is leveraging its fast-growing tobacco plant technology in an effort to develop a vaccine against Covid-19. KBP was involved in the development of ZMapp against Ebola in the mid-2010s.

KBP is hopeful it could produce between one and three million Covid-19 vaccines weekly by June if it receives sufficient government support and can form partnerships with other researchers.

The global conglomerate believes that the tobacco plant could be a faster and safer vaccine development platform. This is because tobacco plants cannot host pathogens causing human disease, elements of the vaccine accumulate quicker in the tobacco plant than other methods and the formulation remains stable at room temperature; conventional vaccines require refigeration.

BAT’s vaccine candidate is currently being tested in pre-clinical studies. It based upon a cloning of a portion of Covid-19’s genetic sequence, which led to the identification of a potential antigen. This antigen was inserted into tobacco plants for reproduction, the plants were  harvested, and the antigen purified for use in pre-clinical testing.

BAT director of scientific research Dr David O’Reilly 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.

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“We are committed to contributing to the global effort to halt the spread of Covid-19 using this technology.”