Thailand researchers working on developing a tobacco-based vaccine to battle Covid

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The vaccine, which uses tobacco leaves, is expected to be cleared for use by late 2022. According to the researchers, the tobacco leaves used in the vaccine is the low-nicotine Australian tobacco variety which is different to the kind used in cigarettes.

According to the researchers, the tobacco leaves used in the vaccine is the low-nicotine Australian tobacco variety which is different to the kind used in cigarettes.

It is believed the speed at which it grows means it can be turned from a seed into a vaccine within a month and the technology is highly adaptable.

Dr Suthira Taychakhoonavudh, chief executive of Baiya Phytopharm, told Sky News: “It takes only 10 days for us to produce a prototype and… no more than three weeks to test whether that prototype works or not.

“For example, right now, we are already working on the Omicron strains. We have the prototype and we’re testing it right now.”

The harvested leaves are used as a host to produce proteins which mimic the COVID-19 virus.

The leaves are blended and the protein is extracted.

When the resulting vaccine is injected into humans it stimulates antibodies which our bodies can use to fight the real virus in the future.

With several Covid vaccines already available in the market, developers say it’s important to continue the project for future health security.

Dr Waranyoo Phoolcharoen, co-founder and chief technology officer told Sky News: “COVID-19 is not going to be the last one, right? You’re going to have so many emerging diseases and if we can develop the vaccine ourselves, then we don’t have to rely on vaccines from other countries.”

The team say the benefit of the tobacco plants, particularly for low-income countries, is that you can grow them almost anywhere in the world at low cost.

The clinical trials are still ongoing so growing conditions in the Bangkok lab are tightly controlled and monitored, with researchers dressed in protective clothing.

The facility at Chulalongkorn University is the first of its kind in Asia making tobacco-based vaccines for human use.

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If successful, they hope to produce 60 million doses a year and, once perfected, the tobacco-based technology is versatile.

Dr Taychakhoonavudh said: “We can use it to produce other drugs. So we can use it to produce anti-cancer, anti-rabies, anti-venoms and those we will focus on more. [For example] Tropical diseases that normally multinational pharmaceutical companies might not be interested in.”

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