LONDON – British American Tobacco PLC has begun development on a potential vaccine for coronavirus using its fast-growing tobacco plant technology.

On Wednesday, the cigarette maker said its biotech subsidiary, Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), was developing the vaccine and was currently in pre-clinical testing.

If the testing process goes well, BAT said it was hopeful that with partners and support from government agencies it could manufacture between 1mln-3mln doses of the vaccine per week from June, although it added that the project is being carried out on a not for profit basis.

The company said its tobacco plant technology offered “several advantages” over conventional vaccine production.

BAT said that the product may be “potentially safer” as tobacco plants cannot host pathogens that cause disease in human, adding that the elements of the vaccine will accumulate in tobacco plants “much more quickly” at six weeks in the plants as opposed to several months using conventional methods.

The firm added that the vaccine in development is stable at room temperature, as opposed to requiring refrigeration, and had the potential to “deliver an effective immune response in a single dose”.

BAT is now exploring partnerships with government agencies to bring the vaccine to clinical studies “as soon as possible”.

“Vaccine development is challenging and complex work, but we believe we have made a significant break-through with our tobacco plant technology platform and stand ready to work with Governments and all stakeholders to help win the war against [coronavirus]”, said David O’Reilly, BAT’s director of scientific research.

“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”, he added.

However, this is not the first time BAT and KBP have publicised an effort to develop vaccines for epidemic-level illnesses, having previously made headlines in 2014 for developing Mapp, a vaccine to help combat Ebola.

Shares in BAT moved up 1.7% to 2,806p in mid-afternoon trading.

Source: Proactive Investor