COVID vaccine made from GMO tobacco? It’s now in human trials

Credit: Ty Wright/Bloomberg
Credit: Ty Wright/Bloomberg

While large pharmaceutical companies are already producing vaccines, [the company British American Tobacco] believes its own can be produced in six weeks, compared with the several months it takes using conventional methods.

This, the company claims, is because of proprietary technology that allows elements of the vaccine to gather quickly on tobacco plants.

BAT also says its vaccine is stable at room temperature, unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech jab being administered in the UK, which must be stored and transported at about -70C.

The vaccine has been developed by BAT’s biotechnology division, Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), which has previously worked on a treatment for Ebola and is also developing a seasonal flu vaccine.

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BAT said KBP had cloned a portion of the genetic sequence of coronavirus and developed a potential antigen, which is then inserted into tobacco plants for reproduction.

Related article:  25 Genomes Project: Conserving British wildlife through genome sequencing

KBP, which is based in Owensboro, Kentucky, says it can turn tobacco plants into “bio-manufacturing factories” capable of producing proteins they would not otherwise produce.

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Dr David O’Reilly, BAT’s director of scientific research, said: “Moving into human trials with both our Covid-19 and seasonal flu vaccine candidates is a significant milestone and reflects our considerable efforts to accelerate the development of our emerging biologicals portfolio.

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