British American Tobacco Unit to Develop Tobacco-Based Coronavirus Drug


British American Tobacco (BTI)  has said that its U.S. biotech unit is working on a potential plant-based vaccine for the treatment of the coronavirus using fast-growing tobacco plant technology.

If pre-clinical testing goes well, Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), the unit developing the vaccine, could produce between 1 million and 3 million doses a week starting in June, the company said, with support from government agencies and the right manufacturers.

KBP, a division of British American Tobacco’s U.S. unit Reynolds American Inc, would develop the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis.

The vaccine, currently undergoing pre-clinical testing, uses a cloned portion of COVID-19’s genetic sequence to develop an antigen that is then inserted into tobacco plants for reproduction. The antigen is a substance which induces an immune response in the body and in particular fosters the production of antibodies.

Once the plants are harvested, the antigens are extracted and purified and inserted into the body to fight the virus, the company said. British American Tobacco added that tobacco plant technology has several advantages over conventional vaccine production technology. Plant-based technology is faster because the vaccine elements accumulate in 6 weeks in tobacco plants versus several months using conventional methods, the company said.

“We believe we have made a significant break-through with our tobacco plant technology platform and stand ready to work with governments and all stakeholders to help win the war against COVID-19,” David O’Reilly, director of Scientific Research at BAT, said in a statement.

Wall Street analyst Callum Elliott raised the company’s rating to Buy stating that in the eleven months since CEO Jack Bowles took over the business, the speed of change has been “impressive”. The $50 average price target suggests a potential 38% upside in the share price in the next 12 months. (See British American Tobacco stock analysis on TipRanks)

British American Tobacco said it was working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on the next steps and was also in discussions with U.K. health authorities to bring its vaccine to clinical studies as soon as possible.

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