British American Tobacco ( BAT) Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP) has today announced plans to begin its first phase of human trials of its COVID-19 candidate vaccine, following approval in the US to begin testing on humans.

The company behind cigarette brands including Lucky Strike, Rothmans and Benson & Hedges stated that the US Food & Drug Administration had given it clearance to begin a clinical study with adult volunteers.

This, the company claims, is because of proprietary technology that allows elements of the vaccine to gather quickly on tobacco plants.

The candidate vaccine has been developed using KBP’s innovative fast-growing plant-based technology.  This unique approach has a number of possible advantages, including the rapid production of the vaccine’s active ingredients in around 6-weeks, compared to several months using conventional methods.

Dr David O’Reilly, BAT’s Director of Scientific Research said, “Moving into human trials with both our COVID-19 and seasonal flu vaccine candidates is a significant milestone and reflects our considerable efforts to accelerate the development of our emerging biologicals portfolio.  It is our unique plant-based vaccine technology, which acts as a fast, efficient host for the production of antigens for a variety of diseases, that has enabled us to make this progress and respond to the urgent global need for safe and effective treatments and vaccines.

With both vaccines reaching these important milestones, the science around tobacco plant-based vaccine development and the unique platform continue to gain momentum.

The COVID-19 candidate vaccine in development uses Kentucky BioProcessing’s (KBP) proprietary, fast-growing plant technology which has several potential advantages over conventional vaccine production technology.

Tobacco plants cannot host pathogens which cause human disease. Production may be faster because the elements of the vaccine accumulate in tobacco plants quickly – 6 weeks in tobacco plants versus several months using conventional methods. The vaccine formulation being developed has potential to be stable at room temperature, unlike many other conventional vaccines which often require refrigeration.

The vaccine, however, is not licenced for use anywhere in the world.