BAT’s US bio-tech subsidiary, Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), is developing a potential vaccine for COVID-19 and is now in pre-clinical testing, British American Tobacco announced.
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. 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 company says that the vaccine in development uses BAT’s proprietary, fast-growing tobacco plant technology which has several advantages over conventional vaccine production technology, as it is potentially safer given that tobacco plants can’t host pathogens which cause human disease.
Also, it is faster because the elements of the vaccine accumulate in tobacco plants much more quickly – 6 weeks in tobacco plants versus several months using conventional methods. At the same time, the vaccine formulation KBP is developing remains stable at room temperature, unlike conventional vaccines which often require refrigeration.
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, the company reminds.
In 2014, KBP made headlines as one of the few companies with an effective treatment for Ebola.
– 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 – Dr David O’Reilly, Director of Scientific Research, BAT, said.
As he added, KBP has been exploring alternative uses of the tobacco plant for some time, and one such alternative use is the development of plant-based vaccines.
– We are committed to contributing to the global effort to halt the spread of COVID-19 using this technology – Dr O'Reilly said.