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Coronavirus vaccine may come from a British tobacco company, of all places

Published Apr 1st, 2020 5:11PM EDT
Coronavirus Vaccine
Image: Sebastiao Moreira/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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  • The race for a coronavirus vaccine is ongoing as biotech companies across the globe have intensified their efforts.
  • A promising plant-based vaccine from British American Tobacco is currently undergoing pre-clinical testing.
  • A coronavirus vaccine is vital as the coronavirus death tally continues to rise and is now approaching 45,000.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

Tobacco companies are generally known for ruining lives not saving them, which is why you might be surprised to learn that the London-based tobacco company British American Tobacco has been busy working on a vaccine for the coronavirus. Specifically, British American Tobacco has a biotech subsidiary — thanks to a complex history of acquisitions and mergers — called Kentucky BioProcessing that believes it may have a solution to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement issued earlier today, the company said that it’s working on a vaccine that would partly be based on ingredients extracted from plants related to tobacco. What’s particularly interesting is that the company applies various processes to plants in order to make them produce proteins they wouldn’t otherwise produce.

The New York Times points out that the vaccine “uses a cloned portion of COVID-19’s genetic sequence to create an antigen that is then inserted into tobacco plants for reproduction.”

British American Tobacco says its vaccine is currently undergoing pre-clinical testing and we can only hope that said tests yield some positive results. Indeed, with the global death tally from the coronavirus now approaching 45,000, the race to come up with a vaccine has only intensified in recent weeks.

Kentucky BioProcessing says that if their vaccine proves to be effective, they could manufacture as many as 3 million doses per week. What’s more, the company said that it’s developing the vaccine as a non-profit initiative, which is to say we’ll thankfully avoid a scenario where some folks won’t be able to afford a vaccine should one be developed.

While the idea of a tobacco company coming up with a vaccine sounds far-fetched, Kentucky BioProcessing in the past has worked on promising treatments for other viruses such as Ebola.

In a statement on the company’s ongoing research, Dr. David O’Reilly of British American Tobacco said the following:

Vaccine development is challenging and complex work, but we believe we have made a significant breakthrough with our tobacco plant technology platform and stand ready to work with Governments and all stakeholders to help win the war against COVID-19.

We fully align with the United Nations plea, for a whole-of-society approach to combat global problems. KBP has been exploring alternative uses of the tobacco plant for some time. One such alternative use is the development of plant-based vaccines. We are committed to contributing to the global effort to halt the spread of COVID-19 using this technology.

The company is hoping to start full clinical trials as soon as possible and has been busy talking with the requisite governing health bodies in the U.S. and in Europe about doing just that. We’ve seen many companies tout promising coronavirus vaccines in recent weeks, but we can only hope that Kentucky BioProcessing is actually working on something that could very well come to market sooner rather than later.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.

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