BAT has already started pre-clinical testing on animals, of a plant-based vaccine via US biotech subsidiary Kentucky BioProcessing. Philip Morris, on the other hand, through its partially-owned Canadian unit Medicago, expects to start human trials of a potential vaccine this summer.
Adversity makes strange bedfellows and the current global Covid-19 pandemic has proved to be no exception. Big tobacco companies have joined pharma companies in the race for a vaccine — one that can potentially contain the deadly disease that has affected almost a million people worldwide and killed tens of thousands.
Two of the world’s biggest cigarette makers, Philip Morris and British American Tobacco are trying to devise a defence against the coronavirus, a Bloomberg report said.
According to the report, BAT has already started pre-clinical testing on animals, of a plant-based vaccine via US biotech subsidiary Kentucky BioProcessing. Philip Morris, on the other hand, through its partially-owned Canadian unit Medicago, expects to start human trials of a potential vaccine this summer.
The Kentucky BioProcessing unit could produce up to 3 million doses per week starting June.
This is not the first foray of Big Tobacco into this field. In 2014, BAT’s Kentucky BioProcessing was involved in developing ZMapp, an Ebola drug, with Mapp Biopharmaceutical, but that treatment never made it out of the lab.
British American Tobacco is the maker of brands including Lucky Strike, Dunhill, Rothmans and Benson & Hedges and Phillip Morris is the maker of Marlboro cigarettes.
British American Tobacco said it had cloned a portion of the virus’s genetic sequence and developed a potential Covid-19 antigen — a protein that induces the production of antibodies and enables the body’s immune system to prevent infection.
Gene coding for the antigen was injected into tobacco plants six weeks ago, which have been harvested and protein extracted for testing. According to BAT, this generates the vaccine faster than conventional methods, reducing the time required from several months to about six weeks.
Philip Morris’s Medicago has used a virus-like particle grown in a close relative of the tobacco plant. Plant-based vaccines mimic viruses and allow the body’s immune system to recognise them and create an immune response, without being able to infect or replicate.