Philip Morris and British American Tobacco (BAT) have entered the race for a COVID-19 vaccine in collaboration with two biotech firms working on plant-based vaccines.
If either candidate is approved, it would be the first plant-based vaccine approved for human use.
Philip Morris’s partially owned Canadian unit Medicago is investigating a virus-like particle grown in a close relative of the tobacco plant and expects to start human trials for a potential vaccine this summer.
Plant-based methods offer some advantages over conventional vaccines because they are faster and easier to scale up.
Medicago’s first product, a seasonal flu vaccine, is currently under review by Health Canada.
Meantime, BAT’s U.S. biotechnology subsidiary Kentucky BioProcessing (KPB) is in pre-clinical testing with a COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
BAT said the potential is there to manufacture up to 3 million doses of vaccine per week. The method is also potentially safer than conventional vaccines because tobacco plants can’t host pathogens that cause human disease. The plant-based vaccines also remain stable at room temperature, unlike conventional vaccines that often require refrigeration.
The tobacco company said that its work around the COVID-19 vaccine project will be carried out on a not-for-profit basis. — Suz Redfearn