BAT’s biotechnology subsidiary in the USA – Kentucky BioProcessing – is developing a potential vaccine for COVID-19 and is already undergoing pre-clinical testing.
If the tests are successful, BAT expects that, with appropriate partners and support from official entities and agencies, from June onwards, between 1 and 3 million doses of the vaccine can be produced per week.
Although Kentucky BioProcessing is a subsidiary for business purposes, work on the vaccine project for COVID-19 is intended to be carried out on a nonprofit basis.
The vaccine under development uses a technology that BAT owns for the rapid growth of tobacco plants, which has several advantages over conventional technology for vaccine production:
- It is potentially safer, since tobacco plants cannot host disease-causing pathogens in humans.
- It is faster because elements of the vaccine build up in tobacco plants much more quickly – 6 weeks in tobacco plants versus several months using conventional methods.
- The vaccine formulation that Kentucky BioProcessing is developing remains stable at room temperature, unlike conventional vaccines that generally require refrigeration.
- It has the potential to provide an effective response in a single dose.
The American subsidiary of BAT (Reynolds American Inc) acquired Kentucky BioProcessing in 2014, with the aim of using its exclusive tobacco extraction technology in the development of its new category of smokeless products.
In 2014, Kentucky BioProcessing made news as one of the few companies with an effective treatment for Ebola, having manufactured ZMapp ™ in conjunction with California-based Mapp BioPharmaceuticals, and in partnership with the Biomedical Research and Development Authority USA forward (BARDA).
Kentucky BioProcessing recently cloned a part of the genetic sequence of COVID-19, which led to the development of a potential antigen – a substance that induces an immune response in the body and, in particular, the production of antibodies. This antigen was inserted into the tobacco plants for reproduction and, once the plants were harvested, the antigen was purified and is now undergoing pre-clinical testing.
BAT is now exploring partnerships with official entities and agencies to be able to start a phase of clinical trials of the vaccine as soon as possible. Through collaboration with state and private laboratories, BAT believes that between 1 and 3 million doses per week can be produced.