BAT joins race for COVID19 vaccine as infections reach 1 million

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  • Potential vaccine for COVID-19 in clinical testing
  • If testing is rewarding, between 1 and 3 million doses of the vaccine could be manufactured beginning June
  • Vaccine is safer, faster and remains stable at room temperature

Cigarette and tobacco manufacturer, with operations in Zimbabwe, British American Tobacco (BAT) is developing a potential vaccine for COVID-19 through its US bio-tech subsidiary, Kentucky BioProcessing.

In a press release, BAT said, “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.”

 If the 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.

BAT said the vaccine in development uses the company’s proprietary, fast growing tobacco plant technology which has several advantages over conventional vaccine production technology.

These advantages are:

  • It is potentially safer given that tobacco plants cannot host pathogens which cause human disease.
  • 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.
  • The vaccine remains stable at room temperature, unlike conventional vaccines which often require refrigeration.
  • It has the potential to deliver an effective immune response in a single dose. 

KPB is a company that develops and executes processes to transform tobacco plants into bio manufacturing factories that efficiently produce complex proteins they would not otherwise produce. The company can grow, harvest and process as many as 3 million protein-producing tobacco plants in a production cycle that typically takes about six weeks –compared with many months using traditional bio manufacturing methods.

The company uses licensed and proprietary technologies to temporarily encode tobacco plants with the genetic instructions to produce specific target proteins. The plants are grown in an automated, climate-controlled environment that can be adjusted to optimize their production of a protein of interest.

In January 2014, KBP was acquired by and became an independently operated, wholly-owned subsidiary of Reynolds American Inc. (RAI), owned by BAT with the aim of using 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 U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

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