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Tobacco firm BAT jumps in coronavirus vaccine development venture

April 2, 2020 - 17:05 By Lee Joo-hee
BAT’s US biotech subsidiary, Kentucky BioProcessing is developing a potential vaccine for COVID-19 that is now in pre-clinical testing, the tobacco firm said Thursday.

BAT aims to gain partners and support from government agencies to manufacture a vaccine, if successful, to a capacity of between 1 million and 3 million doses per week, beginning in June, it said.

The venture is not aimed at making a profit, it added.

The project involves BAT’s proprietary, fast-growing tobacco plant technology, the firm said, explaining that tobacco plants can’t host human pathogens.

The process could be 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, it claimed.

BAT’s US subsidiary, Reynolds American, acquired KBP in 2014 to focus on tobacco extracting technology for non-combustible products.

In 2014, KBP was reported as one of the companies with treatment for Ebola, having manufactured ZMapp with California-based company Mapp BioPharmaceuticals in partnership with the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

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.

“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,” said Dr. David O’Reilly, director of scientific research at BAT.