Using tobacco plants to create a vaccine against COVID-19 has moved one step closer to becoming a reality.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has officially approved British American Tobacco (BAT) to start human clinical trials of its COVID-19 vaccine.
If the trials go well, it'll join the ranks of other vaccines currently already in production. However, BAT's one can be produced in just six weeks, compared to months with conventional methods. It can also be kept at room temperature, versus freezing conditions for some other vaccines.
The reason BAT's vaccine can be produced so quickly is that elements of it are rapidly gathered on tobacco plants, the company's staple good.
Developed by its biotechnology division, called Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), the company cloned a section of the genetic sequence of the coronavirus and developed a potential antigen. The latter is then inserted into tobacco plants for reproduction.
These relevant proteins grow, are harvested, and processed all within six weeks on the plants — making the production process a faster one than conventional methods, reported BAT.
"Moving into human trials with both our COVID-19 and seasonal flu vaccine candidates is a significant milestone and reflects our significant efforts to accelerate the development of our emerging biologicals portfolio," said Dr. David O'Reilly, BAT's Director of Scientific Research.
BAT's vaccine still lags well behind other vaccines already being produced, however, if it's able to be produced safely and quickly, it may prove useful in the coming years.
The clinical trial with begin with 180 healthy adult volunteers broken into two age groups: 18 - 49, and 50 - 70. They will be administered either a low or a high dose of the vaccine, or a placebo, and assessed for up to a year. The first evaluation will happen 44 days after the dose is administered.
BAT isn't the only company looking into plants for vaccines. Canada-based Medicago is looking into a plant-based flu vaccine.