Demerara Tobacco Company Limited (DEMTOCO)’s parent company, British American Tobacco (BAT), is working on a vaccine for the Coronavirus also known as COVID-19. And according to a recent release, BAT is already in the preclinical testing stage.
BAT disclosed that it is using its US bio-tech subsidiary, Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP) for the development of the vaccine. If testing goes well, BAT is hopeful that, with the right partners and support from government agencies, close to three million doses of the vaccine could be manufactured per week, beginning in June.
While KBP remains a commercial operation, BAT said it is the intention is that its work around the vaccine project will be carried out on a not for profit basis.
Kaieteur News understands that the vaccine in development uses BAT’s proprietary, fast-growing tobacco plant technology which has several advantages over conventional vaccine production technology. According to BAT, the technology being used is potentially safer, given that tobacco plants can’t host pathogens which cause human disease.
The company said too that the technology is also faster because the elements of the vaccine accumulate in tobacco plants much more quickly–six weeks in tobacco plants versus several months using conventional methods. Also of significance, it said, is the fact that the vaccine formulation KBP is developing remains stable at room temperature, unlike conventional vaccines which often require refrigeration. It also has the potential to deliver an effective immune response in a single dose.
BAT’s US subsidiary, Reynolds American Inc, had 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.
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).
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 preclinical testing.
Dr David O’Reilly, Director of Scientific Research at BAT said that the company is engaged with the US Food and Drug Administration and is seeking guidance on next steps. O’Reilly added, “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…”
The Director further noted that vaccine development is challenging and complex work, but he holds the view that BAT has made a significant break-through with its tobacco plant technology platform.
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