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Crop Biotech Update

COVID-19 Vaccine Development Using New, Fast-Growing Tobacco Plant Technology

April 22, 2020

British American Tobacco (BAT) has joined the race in developing a potential vaccine for COVID-19 using a new, fast-growing tobacco plant technology. BAT's biotech subsidiary in the United States, Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), is developing the potential vaccine for COVID-19 and is now in pre-clinical testing. BAT and KBP work closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), and the United Kingdom's Department for Health and Social Care.

In an interview on Ian King Live on Sky News in the UK, BAT's Chief Marketing Officer Kingsley Wheaton said that their work on the potential vaccine is carried out on a not-for-profit basis. KBP has cloned a portion of COVID-19's genetic sequence which led to the development of a potential antigen. The antigen was then inserted into tobacco plants for reproduction. Upon harvest, the antigen was purified and is now undergoing pre-clinical testing.

The potential vaccine in development uses BAT's proprietary, fast-growing tobacco plant technology which has several advantages over conventional vaccine production technology. It is potentially safer as tobacco plants cannot host pathogens causing human diseases. It is also 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 formulation in development remains stable at room temperature, unlike conventional vaccines which often require refrigeration. Lastly, it has the potential to deliver an effective immune response in a single dose.

For more details, read the news release from BAT.

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