One of the world's biggest cigarette makers is working on a plant-based coronavirus vaccine

The tobacco company behind brands like Lucky Strike says it may be able to create a coronavirus vaccine using tobacco plants.

British American Tobacco (BAT), maker of cigarette brands Dunhill, Rothmans, Benson & Hedges, and Lucky Strike, has said that it has a potential coronavirus vaccine in development.

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The company claims the vaccine will be created using tobacco plants, saying that "tobacco plants offer the potential for faster and safer vaccine development compared with conventional methods”.

BAT said Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP) - its US biotech subsidiary - has already moved to pre-clinical testing of the vaccine and will work on it on a not-for-profit basis.

'Tobacco plants cannot host pathogens which cause human disease'

The move may seem unusual, given that BAT ordinarily uses tobacco plants to manufacture cigarettes - widely proven to cause health risks in those who smoke them.

However, KBP, which BAT purchased in 2014, had previously worked on a treatment for Ebola. BAT said that the work it was doing was “potentially safer [than conventional vaccine technology], given that tobacco plants cannot host pathogens which cause human disease."

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BAT said that the UK Department for Health and Social Care and the US Food and Drug Administration had been contacted and told that the firm could “offer our support and access to our research with the aim of trying to expedite the development of a vaccine for Covid-19."

The company says that using “new, fast-growing tobacco plant technology” puts the firm ahead of others in trying to develop a vaccine, and is hopeful that it will be available within months.

“If testing goes well, BAT is hopeful that, with the right partners and support from government agencies, between 1m and 3m doses of the vaccine could be manufactured per week, beginning in June," the organisation commented.

'Fighting the war against Covid-19'

Dr David O’Reilly, the director of scientific research at BAT, said, “Vaccine development is challenging and complex work but we believe we have made a significant breakthrough with our tobacco plant technology platform, and we stand ready to work with governments and all stakeholders to help win the war against Covid-19.

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“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.”