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expert reaction to British American Tobacco working on a COVID-19 vaccine

British American Tobacco have announced that they are working on a COVID-19 vaccine.


Prof Julian Ma, Hotung Chair of Molecular Immunology, and Director, Institute for Infection and Immunity, St. George’s Hospital Medical School, University of London, said:

“This is actually the second press release from a major plant manufacturing company about progress towards developing a SARS-CoV2 vaccine in plants.  The first came out on March 12th from Medicago –

“There is little detail in the current release from KBP describing the nature of the vaccine candidate developed by KBP, but it is likely to be similar to Medicago’s approach of developing virus-like particles (VLPs), essentially non-infectious empty virus shells which look like virus from the outside, but do not contain essential components required for viral replication.  Both companies will be using Nicotiana benthamiana to make these vaccines, which is not the species of tobacco which is used for smoking.  Instead, it is a weedy relative, which has no other commercial value.

“However, Nicotiana benthamiana offers an extremely exciting opportunity to tackle global diseases.  The manufacturing system is really fast, hugely scalable and potentially cheaper than the conventional manufacturing systems we use for vaccines (for example, eggs for influenza virus vaccine).  In particularly it is a technology that might make vaccines more affordable and accessible for people in low and middle income countries.  This is important for a disease which is spreading to every country in the world. It will be no use making an expensive vaccine, which is only accessible by rich people in the first world.

“The press release by KBP reports an important milestone for the company, but they are still a long way from making a vaccine.  Importantly, it still needs to be determined how safe their vaccine will be and how potent in inducing protective immunity in humans.”


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


Declared interests

None received.

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