Tobacco-based Covid-19 vaccine may start clinical trials in weeks

Tobacco makers have been jumping into the race to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus

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An experimental Covid-19 vaccine developed that’s produced in tobacco plants may start clinical trials within weeks as the race for immunization intensifies.

British American Tobacco Plc, the maker of Lucky Strike cigarettes, expects a response from the US Food and Drug Administration any day now, chief marketing officer Kingsley Wheaton said in an interview. “We’re optimistic,” Wheaton said. “It’s an important part of our strategy to try and build a better tomorrow.”

Tobacco makers, whose products are linked to lung damage, have been jumping into the race to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus, a pandemic that’s mainly spread by respiratory droplets. Medicago Inc., a biotechnology company partly owned by rival cigarette maker Philip Morris International Inc., is also developing a plant-based vaccine that could be available in the first half of 2021, if it’s successful.

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There are 24 vaccine candidates in clinical trials, though the success rate of such programs is normally 10%, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said last week.

BAT subsidiary Kentucky BioProcessing uses tobacco plants in making the experimental vaccine, which is derived from the genetic sequence of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid. Elements of the vaccine accumulate in tobacco plants within six weeks while other methods take months, according to BAT.

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