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British American Tobacco (BAT) will be using its tobacco-based technology in making a vaccine candidate targeting COVID-19. The candidate has been developed by its own subsidiary, Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP).

BAT’s spokesperson said that KBP has managed to clone a portion of the genetic sequence encoding COVID-19’s antigen, an antigen that induces an immune response in the human body and production of antibodies.

These identified sequences were used in tobacco plants for rapid production. Once it is harvested, purified, and conjugated with the TMV scaffold, BAT will commence the pre-clinical testing of the vaccine. According to BAT, this process will result in a safer product as tobacco plants cannot host pathogens carrying human diseases, it is also faster in developing a vaccine than through conventional methods.

KBP has already seen past successes in using similar technologies in the production of Ebola treatments back in 2014 and 2015. They have used genes coding for the chimeric monoclonal antibodies inserted into viral vectors and tobacco plants to make the treatment, ZMAPP. They have also partnered up with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before producing a seasonal flu vaccine.

BAT is looking to work with others to tackle COVID-19, especially around clinical trials, and to resolve current bottleneck issues relating to the TMV adjuvant conjugation and final product fill.

The firm says it is set to begin clinical trials in June and start manufacturing in parallel, they have added that this is based on a not-for-profit basis.

(Source: BioProcess International, 2020)