British American Tobacco has potential plant-based coronavirus vaccine in development
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British American Tobacco has potential plant-based coronavirus vaccine in development

BRITISH AMERICAN Tobacco (BAT) has revealed it has a potential coronavirus vaccine in development.

In what represents a remarkable about-turn or the world’s worst April Fool’s Day gag, the company behind such cigarette brands as Rothmans and Lucky Strike has announced it is using tobacco planets to develop a potential vaccine to the pandemic.

“If testing goes well, BAT is hopeful that, with the right partners and support from government agencies, between 1m and 3m doses of the vaccine could be manufactured per week, beginning in June,” the company said.

The London-listed firm cited its vast resources and “new, fast-growing tobacco plant technology” as key reasons why their vaccine developed plans are at such an advanced stage compared with other pharmaceutical companies.

“Tobacco plants offer the potential for faster and safer vaccine development compared with conventional methods,” the company said.

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BAT also said its work on the vaccine was “potentially safer [than conventional technology], given that tobacco plants cannot host pathogens which cause human disease”.

The firm’s US biotech subsidiary, Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), has already moved to pre-clinical testing and is working on the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis.

KBP’s previous work includes the development of a treatment for the Ebola virus.

tobacco crop at sunset

The company claims to have cloned a portion of the genetic sequence of the coronavirus and, consequently, developed a possible antigen.

The antigen was subsequently inserted into tobacco plants for reproduction.

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Once the plants were harvested, the antigen was purified before undergoing pre-clinical testing.

Dr David O’Reilly, BAT’s director of scientific research, said: “Vaccine development is challenging and complex work but we believe we have made a significant breakthrough with our tobacco plant technology platform, and we stand ready to work with governments and all stakeholders to help win the war against Covid-19.

“KBP has been exploring alternative uses of the tobacco plant for some time. One such alternative use is the development of plant-based vaccines.”

BAT as already contacted America’s Food and Drug Administration as well as the UK’s Department for Health and Social Care “offer our support and access to our research with the aim of trying to expedite the development of a vaccine for Covid-19”.