April Fools Day? – Mick Raven
Cigarette maker BAT claims coronavirus vaccine breakthrough
Testing a vaccine on tobacco plants paves the way towards millions of doses being produced a week
The world’s second-biggest cigarette maker claims to have made a “significant breakthrough” in the race to find a vaccine for the coronavirus and would be ready to start mass production within three months.
British American Tobacco (BAT), the FTSE 100 company behind Lucky Strike and Dunhill, said it could be producing up to 3m million doses of a vaccine a week by June – far faster than rivals, which are expecting to take at least a year.
BAT intends to start trialling its vaccine in humans as soon as possible. It is running pre-clinical tests and holding urgent talks with US drug authorities to fast-track permissions.
The treatment is being developed by the company’s health division Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP), which has previously come up with a drug to combat Ebola. It claims to have found an antibody that appears to fight Covid-19, and is manufacturing this using genetically modified tobacco plants.
City analysts called the announcement “somewhat surprising”. Shares rose 4pc.
More established medical firms have said the timeline for delivering a vaccine is far slower.
The company has opened talks with the Department for Health as well as US regulators. “BAT is now exploring partnerships with government agencies to bring its vaccine to clinical studies as soon as possible.”
Owen Bennett of Jefferies said: “It helps to illustrate the scientific sophistication at big tobacco.”
If the scheme is successful it will give BAT’s reputation a massive boost, he added.
BAT’s scientific research director David O’Reilly said: “Vaccine development is challenging and complex work, but 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.
“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.”
BAT is not alone in turning its attention to developing a vaccine. Earlier this week US consumer goods giant Johnson & Johnson announced a $1bn (£810m) deal with Washington to ramp up testing.