Reynolds American Inc. isn’t known for innovative biotech research and development but that is absolutely what a subsidiary venture knowns a Kentucky BioProcessing LLC is engaged with and now entering into a Phase I clinical trial for a potential SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. After all, with massive tobacco fields as a preclinical laboratory, the parent affords the subsidiary a novel opportunity to infect fast-growing tobacco plants with a genetically modified COVID-19 to assess the feasibility of antibody production in support of the vaccine.
Back in 2014 the tobacco giant acquired the assets and liabilities of Kentucky BioProcessing but in the meantime stated little about the asset. The British parent—British American Tobacco Plc (BAT) recently promoted the pre-clinical trial testing anticipated for the next couple months. Well by this past Friday, BAT declared “the potential vaccine has been shown to produce a positive immune response.” They British parent continued,, “As such, the vaccine candidate is now poised to progress to the next stage which will be Phase I human clinical trials pending FDA authorization.”
Preparation for Phase I
Now BAT via their subsidiary Kentucky BioProcessing submitted their investigational new drug (IND) application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And according to a quote from BAT they are in discussion with other regulatory authorities as well for clinical studies. According to BAT, “We are hopeful to receive further feedback in the coming weeks.” The FDA reported that it couldn’t confirm or deny such an application.
Clinical Trial Investments Ready
In the meantime, Richard Craver with the Winston-Salem Journal reports that BAT has the capital ready for investment in clinical trials, which could commence as early as June pending the results from regulatory filings.
Dr. David O’Reilly, BAT’s director of scientific research, commented, “Vaccine development is challenging and complex work, but we believe we have made a significant breakthrough with our tobacco plant technology platform and stand ready to work with governments and all stakeholders to help win the war against COVID-19.” While the Winston-Salem Journal’s Craver quoted Kentucky BioProcessing (again the subsidiary of BAT) chief executive Hugh Haydon who told Politico back in February that “people may be cynical. But the fact is that we might be able to help.”
BAT has been active in the biotech world. For example in 2015-16, Kentucky BioProcessing, serving as a contract manufacturer for San Diego’s Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. to develop ZMapp, a cocktail of three antibodies, had limited success targeting Ebola reported Craver.
Tobacco in Drug Development
As Dr. Liji Thomas reported, today’s biopharming may transform the nature of plants themselves, leveraging them for producing gene therapy for production of transgenic plants yielding non-native proteins centering on deadly cancers and viruses such as HIV, Ebola, and now SARS-CoV-2. Dr. Thomas suggests advocates of biopharming commit to slice costs of “producing recombinant antibodies, vaccines, enzymes and other regulatory proteins to a tenth.” Moreover, the upside as measured by increases in production capacity and drug yield excite those that understand the implications.
Who is Kentucky BioProcessing LLC
Kentucky BioProcessing LLC positions itself as a “leading producer of recombinant proteins using tobacco plants. Building a better tomorrow.” A subsidiary of Reynolds American, Inc., both of course belong to British American Tobacco Group, a world leader in using tobacco plants to express and extract proteins for use as vaccines and other pharmaceuticals. See the link for a 60 Minutes special on their collaboration targeting Ebola. This subsidiary is located in Owensboro, KY, two hours from Louisville, Kentucky. Part of the British America Tobacco Group has its benefits as the conglomerate enjoys an $85 billion market capitalization. Of course, the company’s brand has challenges based on the history of cigarette marketing in the United States and abroad but this is beyond the scope of our interests at this point.
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