Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), an American subsidiary of the British tobacco company BAT, has been working on a potential vaccine against COVID-19. Last month, BAT said that it was “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 vaccine is using BAT’s proprietary, a fast-growing tobacco plant technology, which is safer than conventional vaccine production. In the press release announcing the vaccine, it was emphasized that while KBP is a commercial operation, the company’s intention for the Covid-19 vaccine project is that any work related to it will be “carried out on a not for profit basis.”
How was the plant based vaccine produced?
Since plants “cannot harbor pathogens that cause human disease”, a plant based formula is safer and the elements of the vaccine would accumulate “much faster in tobacco plants,” therefore this method of production is also more time efficient.
A portion of COVID-19’s genetic sequence was cloned, out of which a potential antigen (a substance which induces an immune response in the body and produces antibodies) was developed. This antigen was then inserted into the tobacco plants for reproduction and once the plants were harvested, the antigen was purified.
BAT explained that since plants “cannot harbor pathogens that cause human disease”, a plant based formula is safer than a regular vaccine. Additionally, explained the tobacco company, the elements of the vaccine would accumulate “much faster in tobacco plants,” therefore this method of production is also more time efficient.
Additionally, unlike traditional vaccines, the plant formula remains stable at room temperature and does not require refrigeration like traditional vaccines, hence it would be easier to store and transport, and has the added potential of providing “an effective immune response in a single dose.”
Awaiting FDA approval to start human trials
The maker of Lucky Strike cigarettes said that once it gets the FDA’s approval, phase 1 trials or testing on humans can commence. BAT added that it had submitted a pre-investigative new drug application to the FDA and that the submission was acknowledged by the agency. The tobacco company also said that it has been in discussions with other government entities agencies around the world about the vaccine.
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